ACT News


Syringe delays put prisoners at risk: expert

A leading researcher who helped prove the case for a needle and syringe program at the territory's jail over a year ago has warned lengthy delays are putting prisoners at risk of infection.

And University of Melbourne Associate Professor Stuart Kinner said strong leadership and political will were needed to get the needle exchange off the ground.

Professor Kinner was one of two researchers with the Burnet Institute who worked on a key 2011 report making the case for the needle and syringe program at the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

The needle exchange has languished in political limbo for almost two years.

There have been eight known cases of prisoners contracting hepatitis C while in the jail between its opening and the end of March this year.

''Where we're at is seeing whether we have the political will to implement what the evidence tells us works,'' Professor Kinner said.


''Every day that we don't implement needle exchange as an evidence-based infection control measure, we risk exposing people to infections unnecessarily.''

He was speaking just prior to addressing an annual national conference, titled ''The Reintegration Puzzle'', focussed on how to best reintegrate prisoners into the community and help prevent reoffending.

Professor Kinner said concerns by opponents of the needle exchange over the risk to guards were unfounded. ''Internationally there are no instances of serious adverse outcomes anywhere,'' he said.

''The only adverse outcome that I am aware of happened in Australia, in NSW, in the absence of a needle exchange.''

The two-day conference, hosted by Deakin University at the Rydges Lakeside, heard from a host of experts from corrections, health, and other areas of rehabilitation and support service.

Conference chair Professor Joe Graffam said the biggest challenge facing the rehabilitation of prisoners into the community was establishing a single, integrated method of support services.

Professor Graffam said exiting prisoners needed co-ordinated services to help them with often complex conditions, including alcohol and drug addiction and mental illness.

''They've got to be connected to some housing support, they've got to be connected to personal counselling … and often drug and alcohol counselling, which they continue to get so they don't fall of the wagon,'' Professor Graffam said.

Keynote speaker Professor John Petrila, of the University of South Florida, discussed the major problems in reintegrating mentally ill prisoners back into the community.

Professor Petrila told The Canberra Times the ACT's police force was leading the globe, with the introduction of mental health clinicians into ACT Policing operations, and the training of officers to better deal with mental health cases.

The Reintegration Puzzle conference continues today.