The proposed Needle and Syringe Program at the Andrew Maconochie Centre in the ACT provides a window through which to view attitudes towards prisoners’ health and their right to an equivalent health care system. The fierce objection to its introduction by prison officers highlights Corrections’ approach to prisoners’ health - as one of many competing interests. As progress to introduce an NSP, a tool proven to be highly beneficial to health, is slowed/potentially blocked by prison officers, it raises the question – does prisoner health come second?
As rates of Hepatitis C in correctional facilities reach levels sixty times that of the general population, it is imperative that the role of needle sharing in the spread of blood-borne communicable diseases is recognised and taken seriously. Some form of Needle and Syringe Program must be implemented to ensure that the duty of care that prison authorities owe to prisoners to protect them from foreseeable harm is fulfilled.
Justice Action Research Paper: "Pricking the Bubble Around Prison NSP's"
Implementation of a Needle and Syringe Program at the Alexander Maconochie Centre
Justice Action Submission regarding the Moore Report
Just Us Article
Justice Action Report: AMC Prisoners' Consultation
Australian law and international treaty obligations recognize that a person’s capacity to access health services must not be compromised by reason of imprisonment and that all people have a basic right to health. In 1990, the United Nations adopted the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, at its core is the “principle of equivalence” which ascertains that prison health services must be of the same quality and meet the same standards as those of the outside community. As such, as highlighted by the World Health Organisation and the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, the higher the rates of injected drug use and associated risk behaviours becomes in prisons, the greater the urgency for the introduction of needle and syringe programs becomes.
The National Drug Strategy approaches drug policy from the position of harm minimalisation, including the reduction of demand, supply and harm. Yet the strategies employed in prisons are highly inconsistent with approaches to illicit drug use in the community. The rates of Hep C infection, transmission and the use of shared needles in correctional facilities also serve to highlight these inconsistencies with rates in the wider community.
Prisoners have highlighted the need for the introduction of a NSP to Justice Action for decades as they would prefer to avoid infection rather than undertake expensive post-infection treatment strategies and should have the right to control their own health care. None of the goals of the NDS or the right to adequate healthcare should be lost because a person is incarcerated.
Many countries have established a variety of carefully controlled programs that allow prisoners who inject drugs to access sterile needles. First established in Switzerland in 1992, NSPs have been established in more than 50 prisons in 12 countries in Europe and Central Asia including:
NSPs have also gained great support in Canada and Greece.