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Talk for thought

Published 6 August 2007

It is a pity that the Chief Minister's concern for human rights offers us no protection from the fall out of irrational laws: laws that will not achieve their objectives.

His support for prohibition of sterile syringes in the new ACT prison on the ground of the best interests of detainees and staff is a perfect example (Stanhope not swayed on jail needle exchange, CT August 2, p 7).

In this area he is as prepared as the Prime Minister to make dishonest appeals to lack of sufficient evidence.

There is a mountain of evidence that sterile syringes are essential to control blood borne diseases and do not undermine other good rehabilitation programs.

The evidence is also clear from overseas prisons that it is safer for staff to provide syringes: no more needle stick injuries in searching for secreted ones.

As the Prime Minister knows, there is no better way to knock on the head a rational proposal for which there is already strong evidence than to insist on proof.

The Chief Minister has told the Assembly that "some illicit drugs will get into prisons" and that health services must "ensure that the prison does not become a crucible of contamination and thereby potentially compromise community health." He now exposes himself to charges of hypocrisy.

Perhaps financial rationality may sway him. Please, Mr Stanhope, take advice from your hard pressed health professionals about how many tens of thousands of dollars a year it will cost to treat for blood borne infections in prisoners, their partners and their children.

Bill Bush


Dear Editor

The refusal of the jail guards and the Community and Public Sector Union (Guards veto needle plan, July 5) to consider the evidence supporting clean needle and syringe provision in jails confirms my original thoughts that it was not a jail that is needed but better drug and alcohol and mental health facilities. After all prison officers are not equipped to care for the 80% of inmates with mental health or drug and alcohol problems.

Syringe Exchange Programs have been successfully implemented in a diverse range of prison settings. Evidence overwhelmingly shows that they reduce HIV and Hepatitis C risk and prevent disease transmission not only within prisons but in the community when the prisoner is released. They increase referrals for addiction treatment, and do not increase drug use nor pose security or OHS problems. They are also cost effective.

On naming the ACT prison, The Alexander Maconochie Centre, Jon Stanhope said: “Maconochie is famous for his contribution to penal reform and for introducing the humane management of prisoners and many innovations in penal practice, which were well ahead of their time.”

Noting that Maconochie himself was sacked in 1844, primarily because military guards, supervisors and constables resisted his reforms, are we seeing history repeat itself? Does this opposition by the guards to one of today’s prison reforms already signal the failure of the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

M McConnell

HIGGINS ACT               Letter not published