Irish Penal Reform Trust

Report concludes Needle Exchange in Prisons Safe and Effective

17th November 2004

A new report released tomorrow, entitled Prison Needle Exchange: Lessons from a Comprehensive Review of International Evidence and Experience, provides the clearest evidence yet that these programmes - now operating in over 50 prisons in 6 countries - are both safe and effective.

The report, co-authored by IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines and published by the Montreal-based Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, concludes that the controlled provision of sterile syringes in prisons:

  • reduces risk behaviour and disease (including HIV and Hep C) transmission;
  • does not endanger staff or prisoner safety, and in fact, make prisons safer places for both staff and prisoners;
  • does not increase drug use or injecting;
  • has been successfully implemented in a wide variety of prison environments

Following on the publication of the report the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) and Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) call upon the Irish Government to implement pilot needle exchange programmes in Irish prisons in order to protect prisoners, prison staff and the public from the further spread of HIV, Hepatitis C and other blood borne infections.

Speaking at the launch Tony Geoghegan, Director of Merchants Quay Ireland stated, "The report further highlights the safety and effectiveness of prison needle exchange programmes and I urge the Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform and the Minister with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy to set aside their difference on the issue and to implement these vital programmes before more people are infected and the lives of both prison staff and prisoners are unnecessarily placed at risk."

"The alarming rate of HIV, hepatitis C and injecting drug use in prisons demands urgent attention," continued Rick Lines, Executive Director, Irish Penal Reform Trust. "Prisoners come from the wider community and most return to it. What is done - or not done - in prisons with regard to HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and injecting drug use therefore has an impact on the health of everyone in Ireland." 

Continued Mr Lines, "The National Drugs Strategy endorses the importance of syringe exchange programmes in reducing the transmission of disease among injecting drug users. The evidence is clear that these interventions would also yield significant health benefits for prisoners, prison staff and for the wider community.  To provide syringe exchange in prisons is not to condone drug use. Rather, it is a pragmatic public health measure that should accompany other efforts to reduce drug-related harm, such as drug treatment programmes and methadone maintenance. The Government has a moral and legal responsibility take action to prevent the further spread of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C among prisoners and general the public, and should implement pilot prison syringe exchange programmes as a matter or urgency."

Launch Details:

Prison Needle Exchange: Lessons from a Comprehensive Review of International Evidence and Experience 

When: Thursday 18th November 2004

Time: 10.00 a.m.

Location: Merchants Quay Ireland, 4 Merchants Quay, Dublin 8

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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