Friday, 18 July 2008

Should We Give Clean Needles to Prisoners?

What do you think? Is your first reaction, no - they are prisoners for god’s sake? I understand that reasoning but there’s a bigger issue here. The alternative to not giving out clean needles is effectively imposing a death sentence via a lethal injection of HIV/AIDS or Hep C. Why then do tax payer funded groups like Drug Free Australia (DFA) oppose the idea so strongly?

I must admit, clean needles for prisoners is a hard one to argue with someone who has little interest in the drug policy debate. Prisoners are there to be punished and the MSM has a habit of telling the public that prison is a holiday camp. Prison is anywhere but a holiday camp for most prisoners and for those addicted to drugs or alcohol, it can be a nightmare. Firstly, addicted prisoners are probably only incarcerated because of their drug addiction and secondly, prisons are not known for their Harm Minimisation strategies.

Sterile Syringes Are Provided To Prisoners

Health Canada

In an increasing number of prisons in Switzerland, Germany, and Spain, sterile syringes are provided to prisoners. These programs have demonstrated successful outcomes including reduced rates of occupational exposure to used needles by correctional services personnel and the removal of used needles from circulation. An evaluation of needle exchange programs in Swiss prisons indicated the following: consumption of drugs did not increase; syringes were not used as weapons; there were no incidents of needle stick injuries; sharing of syringes among prisoners greatly decreased; there were no new cases of HIV or hepatitis C; injection site abscesses did not increase; there was a decrease in drug related sanctions; a decrease in overdoses and suicides; and staff acceptance of the program increased.

Drug Free Australia's (DFA) Unscrupulous Campaign

And now our good friends, Drug Free Australia (DFA) are campaigning against possible changes to the prison system that would bring Australia in line with others parts of the world and follow the recommendations of the World Health Organisation. As usual, their arguments are mostly based on moral beliefs, what-if scenarios and the ideology of a drug free society. For a heavily tax payer funded NGO, they leave a lot to be desired with their research and reporting. The whole argument by DFA is not only erroneous and lacking in real evidence, it is blatantly wrong and exploitative. 

This brings into play issues such public safety as well as the safety of prison officers and other prisoners. There is at least one case where a NSW prison officer died as a result of HIV after being stabbed with a needle in prison.

-Craig Thompson. DFA

In 2002, The ANCD produced a position paper on the needle exchange program in Australia and recommended the program be introduced into prisons. Since then, 60 prisons in 12 countries now provide clean needles to prisoners and there has not been a single case of using a syringe as a weapon. The only reported case was the case mentioned above which coincidentally was in a prison system where needles are NOT handed out.

Below is a classic example of DFA logic where they have stated that handing out clean needles leads to more users and the spread of disease even though all research concludes the opposite. The crunch is that clean needles would stop the spread of disease not increase it.

Also reported on was a study of more than 200 injecting drug users in Sydney's south-west showing that for every one hundred new users followed for a year, forty-six became infected with Hep C.

This new user figure is frightening. Up to 40% of injecting drug users share their needles. So, project the new user scene if free needles were given out in the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC).

-Drug Free Australia (DFA)

DFA have no credibility left, if they ever did in the first place. They should be the last group anyone should be listening to. In a clear case of deceit and arrogance, Jo Baxter from DFA attempts to discredit Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform (FFDLR) for their support of clean needles in prison.

For instance the forum being convened by a group called Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform will try to engender greater community support for the concept. If we examine their arguments they are totally flawed, said Jo Baxter, Executive Officer of Drug Free Australia:

-DFA Website

It backfires completely as the evidence Baxter uses is just wrong. For god’s sake, if you are disputing the factual basis of someone’s claim, at least use the truth. To say the reasoning from FFDLR is flawed and then producing truly flawed counter-arguments is a waste of tax payers money.

Mantra(FFDLR): 'The ability for prisoners to use needles to inject drugs in prisons will provide them with a healthier environment and will reduce the spread of HIV and Hep C’. 

WRONG: Firstly, one of the main ideas of a prison is to prevent illegal activity. It therefore follows that prisoners do not have rights to continue an illegal activity when in prison. Secondly, needles/syringes would be a weapon in the hands of many prisoners – to use on other prisoners and/or the guards, doctors and other prison personnel. Thirdly, it is fallacious to claim that needles will reduce blood borne viruses such as HIV and Hep C. There is strong evidence to the contrary. 

-DFA Website

Baxter, in a dizzy cloud of denial, declares that since drug use is illegal, it should not be acknowledged, especial in prison. This is the whole point of clean needles in prison, that drug use does in reality exist, whether we like it or not. Baxter’s argument indicates that since it’s illegal, it’s better for prisoners to be infected with HIV/AIDS or Hep C than to deal with the situation.

Claiming that syringes can be a weapon in the hands of prisoners sounds logical but Baxter, as usual, ignores the research that it is not a known problem. In fact, there are no cases involving prisons that give out clean needles.

The last point is so worrying that the government must act to stop the funding for DFA.To claim that clean needles do NOT reduce blood borne disease like HIV/AIDS and Hep C goes against every respectable report ever done on the subject. Even the general public know this but for a so called professional to make this claim is idiotic and plainly deceitful. To top it off, Baxter actually claims there is strong evidence against clean needles reducing blood borne disease. Where is that evidence, Jo? It does not exist and either Baxter is a deceitful liar or thicker than a plank of wood.

Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform (FFDLR) have taken up the cause and for some real insight into the issue, you should read what they have to say.


ACT to reconsider jail needle exchange

Position Paper - Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD)

Minimising the Spread of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus Within the Australian Prison System - Australian Institute of Criminology

Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform (FFDLR) - Newsletter

No NSP in new ACT Prison?

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