Home > Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 270 - Drugs in prisons [14684/05].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 270 - Drugs in prisons [14684/05]. (05 May 2005)

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270. Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform  the status of each of the recommendations contained in the 1999 report, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV in Irish Prisoners: Prevalence and Risk, commissioned by his Department; if each recommendation has been implemented; if so, the prisons concerned; if not, the reason therefor; and the projected date of implementation of each of the outstanding recommendations. [14684/05]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): Research undertaken by the Department of Community Health and General Practice, Trinity College, Dublin was published by my Department in 1999 and 2000 under the title Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV in Irish Prisoners: Prevalence and Risk. In view of the recognised link between drug misuse, particularly intravenous use, and the prevalence of both HIV and hepatitis in the general community, as well as in the prison population, the Irish Prison Service has been engaged for a considerable period in a process aimed at ensuring access to appropriate health care, including drug treatment, for the considerable number of prisoners at risk due to their substance misuse. In this regard the Irish Prison Service has actively sought to directly involve community health agencies, both statutory and voluntary in these developments. Since the publication of these research findings there have been significant healthcare developments within the prison system and, particularly, in the facilities available to those prisoners seeking to address their substance misuse in a constructive fashion.

There is an ongoing process of providing prisoners with information regarding the risks and education on appropriate prevention strategies. It would be my policy to apply best practice to the prison situation. Best practice, as far as I am concerned, is to prevent drugs from being introduced into or used in prisons. Any prisoner with a suspected communicable disease would be encouraged to have this definitively diagnosed so that appropriate treatment and follow up can be arranged. For many years past, prisoners with a diagnosis of HIV, hepatitis or other infectious disease have continued to receive medical treatment while in custody in line with clinical recommendations. Indeed this medical treatment is generally in line with that available in the community. It has been long-standing practice to refer prisoners suffering from infectious diseases to specialist hospital services and to act on the basis of the clinical advice received. All such diagnosis and treatment is provided confidentially on the basis of informed consent and prisoners are free to refuse treatment, though instances of refusal are, thankfully, rare.

There has been a considerable expansion in the availability of methadone maintenance to prisoners who have been in receipt of this treatment from community agencies at the time of committal. This is particularly the case in those prisons in the Dublin area where the majority of prisoners with drug treatment needs are located. Development of treatment strategies in this area has been greatly facilitated by the assistance and active co-operation of community agencies involved in the area. Subject to resources being made available it would be intended to further expand the availability of appropriate drug treatment services throughout the prison system. It is Irish Prison Service policy, in common with most prison systems worldwide, not to issue needles or injecting equipment to prisoners. Emphasis within prisons is on health education and appropriate substitution treatment where required. Prisoner health education discourages injecting behaviour but also points out the health benefits of not sharing needles and injecting equipment.

I have previously made my position very clear in this matter. I do not support the introduction of needle exchange in prisons. Any person seeking syringes, needles and fluids under such a scheme would be indicating to the prison authorities that he or she is in possession of, or shortly will be in possession of, controlled drugs of the hard variety and proposes consuming them. To supply a prisoner with the requested items in these circumstances would, in effect, be to tell him or her that prison management will facilitate the commission of serious criminal offences in the prison. While the free availability of condoms within a prison situation has certain health implications there are a wider range of considerations which would have to be taken into account before contemplating the issue of condoms to prisoners. To date I am not aware that there has been any demand by prisoners to have access to condoms. The matter is, however, being kept under on-going review.

Vol. 601 No. 6 Thursday, 5 May 2005

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