The case for having needle exchanges in our prisons

AUTHORITIES calling for prisons to establish needle exchange programs have not plucked the idea out of thin air.

Switzerland was the first country to implement the scheme in 1992, with several other nations following suit.

According to a University of NSW study commissioned by the ACT Government, there were 19 syringe exchange programs operating in 2000.

"Evaluation of pilot prison syringe exchange programs in Switzerland, Germany and Spain has been favourable in all cases," the report said.

"Drug use patterns reported at interview were stable or decreased over time (six prisons).

"Reported syringe sharing declined dramatically and was virtually non-existent at the conclusion of most pilot studies.

"No cases of inmates seroconverting (first developing the antibodies) for HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C have been reported in any prison with a prison syringe exchange program.

"No serious unintended negative consequences have been reported."

Despite efforts to stem the flow of drugs, Australian jails still have a major problem with the spread of hepatitis C through dirty syringes.

The Department of Health's Fourth National Hepatitis C Strategy 2014-2017 states up to two-thirds of female inmates and one-third of males in prison are infected with hepatitis C.

And 43% of indigenous prisoners have the disease.

Meanwhile, a 2013 Corrective Services NSW study found 37% of the prison population had used drugs in jail.

With most prisoners serving terms of six months or less, catching blood-borne diseases behind bars poses a real risk for the wider community upon their release. -ARM NEWSDESK

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