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Jesuit identifies health risks in prisons


Speaking to the National Conference of the Association of Needle and Syringe Exchange Programs in Melbourne yesterday, Fr Peter Norden called for the introduction of harm prevention measures in Australian prisons to tackle the escalating rate of Hepatitis C infection.

"The prospect of introducing a needle and syringe exchange programs into prison needs to be evaluated, given that a recent Victorian Government Health Study identified the Hepatitis C rate in the Victorian Prison population at 57.5%."

"During the last decade, there has been a 50% expansion of the Australian prison population, but those of us who work at the grass roots know that is not explained by increased criminality," he said.

"Australian prisons are being asked to deal with substantial general health and mental health needs of the wider society and is being forced to extend its responsibilities beyond that of serious criminal offenders," he explained, "and it is simply not capable of meeting these new objectives."

Fr Norden, a member of the Australian Government's national advisory committee on Hepatitis C, identifies Hepatitis C as a major public health challenge in Australia, and one which the community is currently failing to address.

The recent Victorian Health Survey of Prisoners found that 68.6% of the prisoners surveyed reported having injected drugs, of which group 79.1% were HCV positive, 74.9% of prisoners who had ever injected drugs reported injecting drugs while in prison.

"Australian prisons are remarkably successful breeding frounds for Hepatitis C infection, and given that most prisoners serve sentences of less than twelve months, this fact puts the whole community at serious health risk."

"It is time for the public health measures available in the wider community, such as needle exchange and availability of condoms to be available in such a high risk context as the 95 prisons in Australia, with a population of over 20,000," he said.

SOURCE
Combat Hep C in Victorian prisons by needle exchange (Jesuit Social Services 21/7/04)

LINKS
Jesuit Social Services | Text of Prison is Not a Health Place talk | Powerpoint presentation
Association of Syring & Needle Programs | Conference 2004

22 Jul 2004