Irish Penal Reform Trust

Ebulletin #10

27th September 2004

VOICES RISING - Volume 2, Number 9


1) IPRT WELCOMES MINISTER NOEL AHERN'S SUPPORT FOR PRISON SYRINGE EXCHANGE: Penal Reform Group rubbishes Department of Justice opposition as "irresponsible and out of touch"

2) LETTER TO THE EDITOR. IRISH EXAMINER: WHY JAILS SHOULD ALLOW SYRINGES: IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines discusses how prison syringe exchange programmes improve safety for prison officers






Prisoner suicides rise to record level in overcrowded jails

Prisons, Profits, and Prophets

Fighting the AIDS Epidemic by Issuing Condoms in the Prisons

IPRT welcomes Minister Noel Ahern's support for Prison Syringe Exchange

Irish Penal Reform Trust has welcomed Minister Noel Ahern's support for prison syringe exchange programmes.  The Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy offered support for prison syringe exchange as part of a comprehensive harm reduction strategy to reduce Hepatitis C and HIV transmission amongst prisoners.

"Minister Ahern is to be commended for providing sensible and pragmatic leadership on this issue," said IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines. "International evidence on the success of prison syringe exchange programmes, as well as international prison health guidelines, clearly support the provision of sterile syringes to injecting drug using prisoners.  The Minister is absolutely correct to raise this issue within his mandate to oversee the National Drugs Strategy."

Prison syringe exchange programmes are currently operating in over 50 prisons in six countries.  Scientific evaluations of these programmes have consistently found that 1) they do not increase drug use or drug injecting among prisoners, 2) they reduce the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C and improve overall prisoner health and 3) they do not create a safety problem or lead to syringes being used as weapons against prisoners or prison staff.

The IPRT has been an outspoken advocate for the provision of sterile injecting equipment to prisoners.  In May, IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines was invited to present on the issue before the delegates of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna.  In July, joint IPRT research on the success of prison syringe exchange programmes was presented at the XV International Conference on AIDS in Bangkok

The IPRT also rubbished Justice Minister Michael McDowell's opposition to these effective public health programmes.  "Minister McDowell's statement that prison syringe exchange is a 'recipe for disaster' is irresponsible, and shows the degree to which his Department is out of touch with international best practice and accepted international guidelines from the World Health Organization and others," said Mr. Lines.  "If there is a real recipe for disaster, it is when governments jeopardise public health by ignoring international evidence in favour of political posturing.  Minister Ahern's brave comments are a welcome step away from this tired approach, which we hope will be an important step towards the implementation of evidence-based drugs policy in Irish prisons."

The IPRT will be releasing a new report Prison Needle Exchange: Lessons from A Comprehensive Review of International Evidence and Experience in mid-October.

Letter to the Editor, Irish Examiner: Why jails should allow syringes

I appreciate Patrick Jordan's concerns for the health and safety of prison officers ('Ahern puts the needle into fight against drugs', Irish Examiner letters, Sept 21).

However, the evidence shows that opposing prison syringe exchange programmes only perpetuates the type of dangerous work environment he wants to end.

Syringe exchange programmes are currently operating in over 50 prisons in six countries (men's and women's prisons of all sizes and security levels).

In 2002/'03, I travelled to prisons in Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Moldova to have a look at prison syringe exchange programmes in operation and met with prison officials, prison officers and prisoners.

Mr Jordan might be surprised to discover that in no case in any of these six countries has there ever been an instance of a programme syringe being used as a weapon against either prison staff or prisoners (and some of these prisons have offered needle exchange for ten years, exchanging thousands of syringes during that time).

Because syringes from the programmes are not considered contraband, prisoners do not need to hide or conceal them, and must instead store them in plastic safety containers.

This has almost completely eliminated accidental needle stick injuries to prison officers during routine searches - a much more common workplace hazard for prison staff than attacks by syringe-wielding prisoners.

Not only do syringe exchange programmes create a safer work environment for staff by significantly reducing needle stick injuries, they have also been proven to reduce HIV and hepatitis C transmission, reduce overdoses and improve the overall health of prisoners, all of which increase the healthiness of the workplace and working conditions for staff.

In Germany - where a new centre-right government has begun cancelling these programs in some prisons - it is the prison staff themselves who are the most vocal supporters of maintaining needle exchange because of the positive impact it has had on their workplace safety.

We all aspire to increasing the health and safety of both prison officers and prisoners.

The evidence is clear that implementing a well-managed prison syringe exchange programme contributes immensely to this goal.

I would encourage prison officers in Ireland to look objectively at the success of prison syringe exchange programmes internationally, as they will find that the implementation of these initiatives is to their own benefit as workers, as well as to that of public health.

Rick Lines
Executive Director
Irish Penal Reform Trust

IPRT makes submission to the National Crime Council

The IPRT has made a submission to the National Crime Council.  Prepared by IPRT Board members Claire Hamilton and Patricia Brazil, the submission outlines our positions on a variety of issues related to the courts, sentencing, restorative justice and juvenile offenders.  The submission will be available on the IPRT website in October.

IPRT makes submission to the National Drugs Strategy

The IPRT has made a submission to the mid-term review of the National Drugs Strategy.  Our submission outlines the IPRT's concerns that the current Strategy fails to meet accepted international standards on prison health, and it makes detailed recommendations on necessary changes before the Irish Prison Service meets international best practice.

IPRT to provide Technical Assistance to the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice

The IPRT has been invited to provide Technical Assistance to the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice as part of a joint project of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Canadian Public Health Association. 

In late October, IPRT Executive Director will travel to Sofia to work with Bulgarian prison officials on the development and implementation of a strategic plan for HIV/AIDS in juvenile detention facilities.  Following the week-long visit, the IPRT will draft a mission report with recommendations.

This is the second Technical Assistance Mission in which the IPRT has participated in 2004.  In March, the IPRT worked with the Romanian Ministry of Justice in developing a similar strategic plan for their prisons.

Farewell to IPRT Administrator Paula Swords

The IPRT is sad to announce the departure of our Administrator, Paula Swords.  Paula has been a tremendous asset to the organisation during her almost 2 years of employment, and we wish her all the best in her new job.

"Prisoner suicides rise to record level in overcrowded jails" by Ian Herbert, The Independent

A record number of inmates killed themselves in English jails last month, triggering concerns about the ill effects of the prison population rising so rapidly.

The Prison Reform Trust called for a reappraisal of penal policy after the Home Office reported that 14 men died in prison of self-inflicted injuries last month, the highest figure since systematic records started 20 years ago. The total number for 2004 now stands at 70.

This figure does not include 14-year-old Adam Rickwood, from Burnley, Lancashire, who died in a secure training centre in County Durham. He is thought to be the youngest person to die in custody in the UK.

There were 94 cases of prisoners taking their own lives last year, and a record 95 in 2002 - a 27 per cent increase on previous years - but rarely has the monthly death toll been in double figures.

Six of the 14 men who died in August - and a 15th man who took his life on 1 September - were awaiting sentence. Most of them died at local prisons - the overcrowded facilities which act as transit camps for prisoners awaiting court appearances which are at the sharp end of the rising inmate population. Their high turnover is making it difficult for staff to develop an understanding of which prisoners constitute a suicide risk, according to prison welfare campaigners.

One of the local prisons worst affected is Shrewsbury, in Shropshire, where two men - both from Stoke-on-Trent - were found hanging in their calls within a 24-hour period earlier this week, taking the year's total of self-inflicted deaths at the establishment to five. A Prison Reform Trust report has shown Shrewsbury to be the second most overcrowded prison in the country with 89.3 per cent of inmates doubling up in single cells. (The Government's target is 18 per cent.) At 6am on Tuesday, prison officers at Shrewsbury found Phillip Parvin, 40, hanging from a ligature made out of a sheet. He was awaiting sentence for theft offences.

By 9am the next day, Marc Keeling, 31, had been found in similar circumstances at the prison. A promising apprentice motor mechanic before he became addicted to heroin 13 years ago and turned to crime, Mr Keeling had already tried to hang himself in prison within the past two years. His family claims he had been overheard threatening to do so again and had tried to cut himself.

Mr Keeling's father, Neil, 48, said he had been assured that the suicide attempt "was all over Marc's paperwork". He said: "He deserved to be in prison - no arguments. But what more of a clue do you need to get a man on suicide watch than him trying to kill himself?"

It is possible that Mr Keeling's prison-history file had not reached Shrewsbury, since he was only arrested on Saturday.

ThePrison Reform Trust claims prisons cannot cope with a population that, by 1 August, had reached 75,146 in England and Wales - an increase of 1,235 in the past year.


1 Sept: Mark Keeling, 31, remanded at Shrewsbury prison on burglary charge. Hanging

31 Aug: Phillip Parvin, 40, remanded at Shrewsbury on theft and handling charge. Hanging

28 Aug: Abdul Omar, 28, convicted, awaiting sentence at Wormwood Scrubs for theft and handling. Hanging

28 Aug: Stephen Woods, 23, convicted and awaiting sentence at Bullingdon, Oxfordshire, for burglary. Hanging

26 Aug: Richard Carter, 33, serving four years at Leeds for robbery. Hanging

26 Aug: Stephen Hush, 44, licence revokee serving life at Acklington, Northumberland, for violence against a person. Cutting

25 Aug: Benjamin Gibson, 19, convicted and awaiting sentence at Norwich for criminal damage. Hanging

23 Aug: Stephen Badaj, 39, serving five years six months at Dartmoor for theft and handling. Hanging

19 Aug: Lee Nottingham, 30, serving 94 days at Shrewsbury for theft and handling. Hanging

14 Aug: Robert Finch, 47, remanded at Exeter on murder charge. Hanging

12 Aug: Michael Briggs, 40, remanded at Leeds on murder charge. Self-strangulation

11 Aug: Brendan Flynn, 28, serving 20 years at Wakefield for attempted murder. Hanging

8 Aug: Jason Alldis, 33, serving two years three months at Elmley, Kent, for ABH. Self-strangulation

8 Aug: Jamie Leigh, 27, serving eight months at Birmingham for failure to surrender. Hanging

7 Aug: Jason Cressey, 29, serving life at Wormwood Scrubs for robbery. Hanging.

© The Independent

"Prisons, Profits, and Prophets" by Bill Berkowitz,

In an era where the Bush administration touts faith-based organizations as engines of individual and social transformation, and is actively recruiting and funding religious organizations to deliver a bevy of social services, it isn't surprising that a high-powered politically-savvy corporation wants in on the action. The Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest owner and operator of private prisons, is trucking out a new product line with a little help from its fundamentalist friends: Prison Conversions to Christ.

Over the past few years, high-profile prison conversions to Christ - like Carla Faye Tucker and David Berkowitz (no relation), also known as the "Son of Sam" - captured the attention of fundamentalist Christian leaders and the mainstream media.*

While high-profile prison conversions may play well in the media, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is casting its lot with your everyday prisoner, entering into partnerships with several Christian fundamentalist evangelical organizations that are increasingly active inside America's prisons.

According to company records, the Nashville, Tenn.-based company is the sixth largest corrections system in the nation, behind only the Federal government and four states. CCA operates 65 facilities, including 38 company-owned facilities, with a total design capacity of approximately 66,000 beds in 20 states and the District of Columbia.

In late March, CCA announced it was collaborating with the Chicago-based Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), a Christian-based outfit founded and headed by the controversial and charismatic Bill Gothard. IBLP is described by Focus on the Family's Family News in Focus as an organization "provid[ing] a voluntary program for inmates who feel that God can change their lives."

Gothard, who is at the forefront of the character education movement called Character First!, "teaches that Jesus Christ is at the top of a 'chain of command' in which authority figures, teachers, employers, elected officials, and, of course, preachers - are ordained as leaders by Christ and should be obeyed without question," Bob Norman reported in Florida's New Times in September 2002.

The goal of the CCA/IBLP partnership is to enroll up to 1,000 inmates - incarcerated in CCA-operated prisons in the Southeastern and Western United States that house more than 60,000 inmates - in a faith-centered rehabilitation program, Family News in Focus reported.

This isn't the CCA's only marriage to faith-based organizations. Since 1991, CCA has been working with the Dallas, Texas-based Bill Glass Champions for Life (CFL). In April of last year it entered into a full-scale partnership with CFL, which according to the Nashville City Paper, allows CFL to develop "religious-oriented prison programs" inside the walls of "all... of CCA's prisons in the United States over the next three years." According to the new arrangement, CFL will work with the more than 60,000 inmates housed in CCA's 64 facilities in the U.S.

"Everyone one of our jails and prisons, on any given day, has groups that do outreach or volunteer work with inmates," Louise Green, CCA's vice president of marketing and communications, told the Nashville newspaper. The CFL contract "is the first time we've had one organization uniformly come into all our facilities," she pointed out.

Champions for Life (CFL), founded in 1972, operates prison ministries in 42 US states as well as Mexico, Bermuda, the Dominican Republic, South Africa and Russia, according to a report published by the Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU) of the University of Greenwich, London, England.

And the Information Network Focus on Religious Movements (INFORM) at the London School of Economics claims that CFL is hooked into the broad network of Christian right groups supporting the Bush administration and it shares a "theological-political world view" with these groups.

According to the Denver Post, CCA has come under fire recently over several incidents at its prisons in the past few months. Two inmates were "critically injured" at a facility in Watonga, Okla. in May, "after hundreds of prisoners with baseball bats, fire extinguishers and two-by-fours fought one another and guards." In late July, prisoners rioted at the Crowley County Correctional Facility in Olney Springs, Colo.

In early August, "a female inmate at a Nashville prison died after suffering a skull fracture while in her cell," the Post reported. Four CCA employees are currently under investigation in her death.

If Florida governor Jeb Bush has his way, nascent faith-based initiatives in state-run prisons may eventually lead to the relinquishing of all government control over the state's prison system to faith-based organizations.

Over the past eight months, Gov. Bush presided over the opening of two full-fledged faith-based prisons. (The state already ran faith-based programs in at least nine prisons, Americans United for Separation of Church & State recently pointed out.) The newly remodeled Lawtey Correctional Institute, which opened its doors in late December, is a medium-security facility located about 30 miles southwest of Jacksonville. The facility was designed to house 800 men when it was transformed into a prison devoted to rehabilitation through faith-based programs.

In mid-April, the governor opened a second faith-based prison: the Hillsborough Correctional Institution in Tampa, which will house some 300 women. According to Americans United's Jeremy Leaming, "Although all faiths will reportedly be allowed to offer religious instruction and other services at the faith-based prisons, most of the programs are expected to be Christian. The Hillsborough set-up mirrors Lawtey's, where religious instruction and exercises are the tools used to reform, rehabilitate and, no doubt, convert as many inmates as possible." Leaming reported that "A spokeswoman for Bush said Hillsborough promises to provide 'an environment that allows and encourages personal growth, self-reflection and character development.'"

Governor Bush's prison conversion programs are only a small part of the state's involvement with faith-based organizations. The Toronto Globe and Mail recently reported that at a "prayer meeting in Tallahassee... Bush announced that he has set up a high-level advisory board to make sure that religious groups get 'fair and equitable access to state government.'"

According to the newspaper, "Every department of the Florida government is now required to have a 'faith-based coordinator' who is expected to reach out to churches, synagogues and missionary groups and encourage them to make bids to offer government services in exchange for grants from Washington."

*Despite the intervention of a number of religious right heavyweights including the Rev. Pat Robertson, Tucker was executed on then-Texas Governor George W. Bush's watch. Berkowitz pleaded guilty in a Brooklyn courtroom to the "Son of Sam" murders in 1978 and he later found Christ. These days he continues his mission from his cell at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York.

Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering right-wing groups and movements.

© 2004 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online.

"Fighting the AIDS Epidemic by Issuing Condoms in the Prisons" by Brent Staples, New York Times

The novelist E. Lynn Harris has become a fixture on the best-seller list and a favorite among black women by writing steamy books about men who live "on the down low" - men who cheat on wives and girlfriends by having sex with other men. The fear of men "on the down low" is now palpable among black women, who are more than 20 times as likely to contract AIDS as white women and are understandably anxious about protecting themselves. This fixation has also become a cottage industry, dealt with in books, lectures, plays and an episode of the popular television series "Law & Order."

The hyperbole and exaggeration surrounding the "down low" has taken the public health debate in a counterproductive direction. It has spread paranoia and pushed a much-needed discussion about bisexual behavior further underground.

Moreover, it has kept the country from focusing on the long-neglected connection between H.I.V. and the prison system, where infection rates are high and unprotected sex among male inmates is far more common than prison officials care to admit. Men who have sex with men in prison pose an enormous threat to women when they return to the outside world and heterosexual behavior.

In any given year, 35 percent of the people with tuberculosis, nearly a third of those with hepatitis C and 17 percent of the people with AIDS pass through jails and prisons. Faced with budget crises, many correctional facilities back away from testing inmates, fearing they will be required to pay for expensive  treatments.

Condoms are banned or simply unavailable in more than 95 percent of the nation's prisons. The corrections system processes nearly 12 million people a year. It is especially vulnerable to AIDS and other blood-borne diseases that spread easily through risky, unprotected sex acts.

Congress was forced to confront the issue in legislation after a series of reports suggested that prisoner-against-prisoner rape, often accompanied by horrific violence, was commonplace. Concern over the problem led to the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, a groundbreaking law that requires the Justice Department to collect data on prisoner-against-prisoner rape and act to prevent it.

Research on sex in prison is limited. But a much-cited study of California prisoners in the 1980's found that 65 percent of them participated in sex acts behind bars. The data, though sketchy, suggests that men who regard themselves as heterosexuals are more likely to have sex with other men the longer they remain in jail. Starved for intimacy, many inmates apparently enter relationships that they would never have considered in the world outside.

In an article published two years ago in The Prison Journal by Christopher Krebs of the Research Triangle Institute, inmates reported that 44 percent of the people they knew participated in sex acts in prison.

The Krebs study disputes the standard  hypothesis that sex acts behind bars mainly involve men who were already active homosexuals. Indeed, fewer than one-third of the people mentioned in the study seem to fit that category, which suggests that about 70 percent experienced their first same-sex encounters only after landing behind bars. The infections these men pick up in prison cycle back into the community once they are released.

The prison data cries out for an AIDS-prevention strategy that would encompass all of the nation's jails and prisons. At a minimum, the program would give inmates free and open access to condoms. The American prison system is now dominated by the dangerous notion that distributing condoms would encourage prisoners to break the rules by having sex. As a result, condoms are unavailable in an overwhelming majority of jails and prisons.

Prison authorities have resisted condom distribution despite intense criticism from public health officials, who have pointed out time and again that condoms are freely distributed in prisons in many countries, including Canada.

The Canadian model is commendable in that it applies clear, specific rules throughout the prison system and leaves little to the judgment of local prison officials. The directive requires that condoms be made "easily and discreetly available" in gyms, libraries, schools, laundry rooms and other areas where inmates can get them without having to interact with guards. The point is to ensure that inmates do not bypass condoms out of fear or embarrassment.

The connection between the prison experience and the spread of AIDS outside prison is especially clear in poor communities, where a great many men spend time behind bars at some point in their lives. But with millions of people regularly exposed to H.I.V. in the prison system, the entire country has both a moral and a medical obligation to confront the sexual realities of prison life.

Until then, lives will be lost and prison-borne diseases will continue to spread from the corrections system into the community at large.

© New York Times


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