Prisoners divided on jail needle program
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Prisoners divided on jail needle program

Prisoners are divided over a proposed needle and syringe program at Canberra's jail, with some fearing they could lose their parole or be targeted by guards if they were known to be drug users.

Pro-prisoner group Justice Action, Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Services and ACTCOSS surveyed male and female prisoners from the Alexander Maconochie Centre on the contentious proposal two weeks ago.

The team's report, issued yesterday, expressed ''disappointment'' interviewees were not given the chance to speak to prisoners without Corrections staff present.

''That really does affect the ability of people to talk ... at one point we thought we shouldn't go ahead with the consultation,'' Justice Action co-ordinator Brett Collins said.

But the team persisted, meeting nine delegates representing the male prisoners under the watchful eye of Corrections staff.

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The team did not tally individual responses and said ''for logistical reasons'' it did not formally quantify responses from the delegates.

Despite the difficulties the survey method imposed on quantifying the results, the team reported ''significant support'' for the introduction of a needle and syringe program.

However, it also found some opposition to the proposal.

Mr Collins said many opposed to a needle and syringe program were concerned prison guards would identify them as drug users, and single them out for urine testing and spot drug checks, or interfere with their chances for parole.

Some told the team they already had (shared) syringes they could use within the prison, without putting themselves at risk of detection.

In July, former ACT health minister and current Public Health Association of Australia president Michael Moore tabled a lengthy report to the ACT Government.

Mr Moore had been tasked with identifying the obstacles to establishing a needle and syringe program in the jail, and recommending how those obstacles could be overcome.

Under his preferred option, prisoners would be allowed to take contraband drugs into the jail's health centre.

After being supplied with clean injecting equipment, prisoners would inject their own drugs under the supervision of nursing staff, before disposing of the dirty syringe and returning to their cell.

Mr Collins said the consultation showed that if an needle and syringe program were to work, it was crucial to consult prisoners before, and during, its execution.

ACTCOSS director Roslyn Dundas said all prisoners who identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander had supported a needle exchange program.

''The major issue for us coming out of the consultation was the concern that prisoners had for their health care,'' Ms Dundas said.

''There was support for an NSP among some of the prisoners consulted, but everybody was in support of quality health care being provided in the AMC.''

The ACT Government is expected to announce whether it will introduce a needle and syringe program by the end of the year.

Health Minister Katy Gallagher has expressed her strong support for a clean syringe program for drug users.

But the prison guards' union has staunchly opposed such a plan.

The Corrections Management Act says prisoners should have access to health services ''equivalent to that available to other people in the ACT''.