Irish Penal Reform Trust

Ebulletin #11

19th October 2004

VOICES RISING - Volume 2, Number 10






5) INTERNATIONAL NEWS – Scotland, Canada, England and the WHO

  • "Addicted inmates may get needles" - BBC News

  • WHO Policy Brief: Reduction of HIV Transmission in Prisons

  • Correctional Service Canada to undertake Safer Tattooing Practices Initiative

  • PRIVATISATION – “Plan to sell off juvenile jails as job lot" by Alan Travis, The Guardian

McDowell's speech on prisons suffers from "factual fuzziness", says Penal Reform Trust

The Irish Penal Reform Trust has criticised yesterday's speech by Minister Michael McDowell as yet another example of the "factual fuzziness" upon which he continues to base his prison policy.

Speaking yesterday at a conference organised by PACE, the Minister announced plans which he purports will end heroin use in prisons through the implementation of mandatory drug testing, among other schemes.  He also reiterated his opposition to proposals from Drugs Strategy Minister Noel Ahern to provide sterile syringes to injecting drug using prisoners as a means to prevent the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C, accusing proponents of such a plan of "moral fuzziness".

"The Minister's comments yesterday again demonstrate the degree to which his view of the world deviates from recognised evidence-based practice and human rights standards," said IPRT Executive Director, Rick Lines. "While talk of 'drug-free prisons' makes a good sound bite, it makes poor public health policy.  Indeed, the international evidence shows that mandatory drug testing actually increases the number of prisoners injecting drugs as a means to 'beat' the testing, and therefore increases heroin use and the risk of transmission of HIV and Hep C."

The IPRT also strongly supported Minister Ahern's call for prison syringe exchange programmes. "International evidence of success from the more than 50 prisons in six countries providing these programmes - as well as international prison health guidelines from the World Health Organisation and UNAIDS - clearly support the provision of sterile syringes to injecting drug using prisoners.  Mr. McDowell's continued refusal to look objectively at this recognised example of best practice is yet further proof of his willingness to put political posturing ahead of scientific and medical evidence," said Mr. Lines.

The IPRT also refuted attempts by the Minister to disguise the true nature of his proposed prison expansion, which if implemented would make Ireland the 4th highest per capita jailer in the pre-expansion EU, while at the same time having one of the lowest rates of crime.  "The Minister went to great lengths yesterday to play fast and loose with the facts about incarceration and crime rates in Europe.  The cherry-picked figures he used to rose-tint Ireland's overuse of incarceration reveals the degree of factual fuzziness the Department of Justice is willing to employ to hide the true impact of the planned super-prisons and the 25% increase in prison places."

Said Mr. Lines, "If indeed the Minister truly believes he occupies the factual and moral high ground on these issues, why does he continue to refuse to provide any evidence supporting his plans?  Yesterday's speech offered a perfect opportunity to do so, yet the Minister chose to run out of the conference immediately following his speech, and avoid taking questions from the floor.  Judging from the later discussions in the conference, there were many professionals in attendance who would have taken issue with the Minister's plans."

IPRT participates in WHO European conference

On October 21 and 22, IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines will travel to The Netherlands to participate in the World Health Organization's annual meeting of the European Network on Prison and Health.  The meeting will focus on the issue of drugs and harm reduction in prisons, and will seek to pass a declaration on harm reduction.

At the meeting, Mr. Lines will give a presentation on the issue of prison syringe exchange.

IPRT to advise Bulgarian Ministry of Justice on HIV/AIDS

From October 25-29,  IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines will travel to Sofia to advise officials from the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice on the development and implementation of a strategic plan for HIV/AIDS in juvenile detention facilities. This Technical Assistance Mission is part of a joint project between the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Canadian Public Health Association. 

Following the week-long mission, the IPRT will draft a mission report with recommendations for the Bulgarian prison service.

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.

IPRT Submission to the National Crime Council now available online

The IPRT's Submission to the National Crime Council is now available on our website.

"Addicted inmates may get needles" - BBC News

Drug-using prisoners may be given clean needles under a scheme being considered by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS).

The service has confirmed it is considering handing out kits to inmates as part of a harm-reduction programme.

Addiction in prisons is widespread and the step could be taken to halt the spread of diseases such as hepatitis C caused by needle sharing.

Last week, a BBC Frontline Scotland investigation highlighted the ease with which inmates could get drugs.

Dr Andrew Fraser, head of healthcare for the SPS, told the Scotland on Sunday newspaper: "We will look at some of the leading-edge things like needle exchanges.

"Prisoners are not meant to have drugs, to be buying, selling or sharing them. But we are very worried about hepatitis C and we know people are catching hepatitis C in prison.


"We have yet to work out all the practicalities. We are meeting with experts from other countries this week to look at how they get around the issue of handing syringes out, and also what to put in the kits.

"But we have got to acknowledge that drugs come into prisons. The clean needles would be given out by health workers, and other prison staff would have to respect that they have a job to do."

A spokesman for the SPS said: "It would be naive not to acknowledge that drugs don't enter prisons and therefore we must look to provide a harm-reduction package, for those prisoners who do not want to address their addiction issues, to help combat problems such as the spread of disease."

It is suggested the kits could contain paraphernalia used in the process of injecting drugs, including a syringe, swabs, filters, foil or even spoons, and a sharps disposal box.

The move is at the discretion of the SPS and does not need to be approved by ministers.

It would require a change in prison rules but not a change in the law.

© BBC News, 2004

WHO Policy Brief: Reduction of HIV Transmission in Prisons

The World Health Organization, UNAIDS and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime have released a joint policy brief on reduction of HIV transmission in prisons. The document calls upon governments to step up HIV prevention measures in prisons by adopting comprehensive programs that include all the measures against HIV transmission that are carried out in the community, including needle exchange.

© World Health Organization, 2004

Correctional Service Canada to undertake Safer Tattooing Practices Initiative

From Canadian HIV/AIDS Policy & Law Review, Volume 9, Number 2, August 2004.  Published by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.


In 1994, the Expert Committee on AIDS and Prisons recommended that tattooing equipment and supplies be authorized for use in federal correctional institutions, and that prisoners who would offer tattooing services to other prisoners be instructed on how to use tattooing equipment safely.[1] Ten years later, Correctional Service Canada (CSC) has finally announced that, as part of a Safer Tattooing Practices Initiative, it will set up safer tattooing pilot projects in six federal prisons in 2004, and evaluate the initiative.

There has been concern about the potential spread of infectious diseases, particularly hepatitis C, but also HIV, through the sharing of tattooing equipment in prisons. Forty-five percent of respondents to CSC's 1995 Inmate Survey said they had had a tattoo done in prison. [2]

Under the Safer Tattooing Practices Initiative, tattoo parlours will be set up in federal prisons in all regions, including in one institution for women. These parlours will be administered by prisoners themselves, under the supervision of CSC staff.

The union representing the 5700 federal correctional officers made its opposition to the initiative public in a press release on 22 May 2004, suggesting that the "initiative is a misguided response to increasing rates of infectious disease, does not respond to CSC's mandate, and poses unacceptable risks to security for its members, inmates, and the community at large." [3] Once again, the union is thus opposing measures aimed at reducing the spread of infection in prisons, and at protecting the health of prisoners, staff, and the public.

In contrast, community advocates expressed support for CSC's initiative, although they suggested that CSC is doing too little, too late. They are concerned that many prisoners may not access the tattoo parlours that will be set up because too many rules and regulations may deter prisoners. They pointed to a comprehensive policy document on tattooing developed in consultation with prisoners that suggests alternative approaches to regulating tattooing in prisons. [4] Finally, they also called upon CSC to implement pilot needle exchange programs.


[1] HIV/AIDS in Prisons: Final Report of the Expert Committee on AIDS and Prisons. Ottawa: Correctional Service Canada, 1994, at 80 (recommendation 6.4).

[2] CSC. 1995 National Inmate Survey: Final Report. Ottawa: The Service (Correctional Research and Development), 1996 No SR-02.

[3] UCCO-SACC-CSN opposes prison tattoo initiative. Press release of 22 May 2004. Available at

[4] P Collins et al. Driving the point home: a strategy for safer tattooing in prisons. Toronto: PASAN, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, HIV/AIDS Regional Services, 2003. Available via


"Plan to sell off juvenile jails as job lot" by Alan Travis, The Guardian

The government is to put out to tender all its dedicated juvenile jails that hold children under 18 in a departure in Whitehall's privatisation programme, the Guardian has learned. 

The four institutions are to be offered as a job lot to be run by a private prison company in a deal thought to be worth £50m as part of an attempt to boost competition and "choice" in the penal system. It is also thought to be designed to tempt US prison firms into the British market.

The institutions are Huntercombe near Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire; Warren Hill, in Woodbridge, Suffolk; Wetherby in West Yorkshire and Werrington in Stoke-on-Trent. Warren Hill has a special unit which holds teenage murderers and others given very long sentences.

They hold 1,000 offenders including some of the most dangerous. They - with Ashfield near Bristol, which is privately run by Premier Prison Services - are the only dedicated prisons for the under 18s. Other publicly-run young offender institutions also hold teenagers but they are mixed with young adults up to the age of 21.

The leak of the plan, which is being proposed by Martin Narey, the chief executive of the new National Offender Management Service, has caused alarm among reformers and prison unions.

Frances Crook, of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "We have not seen any proof that private prison companies are any better at running child jails."

Colin Moses, chairman of the Prison Officers' Association, said it would hold an emergency meeting today to consider boycotting the tender process. "They should remain in the public sector, not for ideological reasons, but because those who are responsible for the most vulnerable in our society have a duty not to make a profit from their suffering."

At Ashfield the situation became so bad two years ago that Mr Narey invoked his powers for the first time to replace a private prison director with a state prison governor. But the record of child jails run by the Prison Service is also poor, with 11 suicides of teenagers in the past five years.

The scheme is being considered by Home Office ministers and if, as expected, it goes ahead next year, the four institutions will become the first public sector prisons in Britain to be handed over to the private sector. In the past the government proposed privatising Brixton but no company was interested enough to bid for a single failing inner city south London prison.

The four all have relatively good records and some have undergone recent refurbishment. Earlier this year the merger of Group 4 and Securicor halved the number of private prison companies operating in Britain and Mr Narey has tried to persuade US companies to bid for British contracts.

The two largest private prison operators in the US, the Geo Group and the Corrections Corporation of America, have been involved in running British prisons and immigration detention centres in the last 10 years but have both pulled out in the last few years.

Mr Narey made clear he was going to offer "clusters" of prisons to increase interest and the four juvenile jails are to be the first "themed cluster" to be put out to tender.

It is believed they have been chosen to pioneer this programme - known as "contestability" in the Whitehall jargon - because unlike many state prisons they already have defined contracts as part of their relationship with the Youth Justice Board, which "buys" places at each of the jails.

Harry Fletcher of Napo, the probation union, said that "contestability" was another word for privatisation or market testing and was a "cynical attempt to drive down costs".

It is believed that an attempt to put the work of the north-west probation area out to tender will follow next.

© The Guardian

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