The Canberra Times has today reported on six fresh cases of hepatitis C acquired at the ACT’s Alexander Maconochie Centre jail since December. But will they be the tipping point to finally persuade authorities to do “the right thing” and provide sterile injecting equipment in prisons, asks NDARC’s veteran prisons researcher Professor Kate Dolan?
Hepatitis C continues to be transmitted in Australian prisons at a much higher rate than among drug users in the community, says Dolan. Her study published in the European Journal of Clinical Epidemiology in 2010 found that one third of injecting drug users continue to inject in prison, 90 per cent shared needles and of these 30 per cent went on to contract Hep C while they were full time inmates.
In contrast 50 prisons in 12 countries around the world, including Switzerland and Iran, provide sterile injecting equipment for prisoners and prison acquired Hep C infections have fallen, she says. With re-incarceration rates high in Australia and something like 50,000 people moving in and out of prison each year, this is an issue not just for the prison population but for the wider community, she says.
Dolan’s review of supply, demand and harm reduction strategies in Australian prisons will be launched by the Australian National Council on Drugs at the NDARC Annual Symposium in August.