Jenny Miragaya, ACT secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, spoke to the Vintage Reds February meeting on the ACT government's needle and syringe program (NSP).
There have been attempts over the last few years to address the problem of needle safety in the Alexander Maconochie Centre. Unions representing staff employed at the prison, the CPSU representing prison guards, and the ANMF, have worked with government health and corrective services staff to resolve the question.
Jenny Miragaya referred to the Burnett report tabled in 2011 and the ACT government's trial needle program which was announced in 2012. Up to then the ANMF membership had not supported any of the proposed measures, which apart from a supervised injecting room included a needle vending machine which took used needles; and providing prisoners with their own kit in their rooms. In 2012 the ANMF and CPSU took part in a consultative group with government, but this achieved very little.
Safety of prisoners as well as staff is an issue. There are probable cases of hepatitis C from shared needles in the prison. There is also the matter of needles being used inside the prison as weapons, and as currency. Tattooing and body piercing are further areas of risk.
The prison guards' earlier agreement with the ACT government gave them the right to veto any proposal for an injecting room. Finally in April last year there was an agreement to set up an NSP. Prisoners and their families have indicated that they are in general supportive of this.
In September 2015 the ANMF asked its members for feedback, now not on the question of the merits of an injecting room but on how best to set it up. In November the ANMF lodged its submission to the ACT government's working party on how to manage the transmission of blood-borne viruses among prisoners.
The ANMF has come out in favour of a supervised injecting room. It's a controversial result, given previous survey results. And there are still members who are conscientiously opposed to working in such a place.
Reasons for opposing the injecting room included that there is no possibility of anonymity: prisoners' visits to the room would give them away. Working in an NSP may imply tacit approval of the prisoners' choice of a deleterious lifestyle. Prisoners are required to have access to medical services equal to those in the wider community; there is no injecting room in the ACT, so this provision would be over and above the norm. For prison guards whose job is to control contraband within the prison, being required to take a prisoner to the injecting room can be seen as a contradiction. Some people think that prison is an opportunity for a prisoner to stop their drug habit; but all parties involved in this process accept that you cannot keep drugs out of prisons. The problem becomes how to manage this.
The meeting congratulated the ANMF for their work, and thanked Jenny for her extremely informative presentation.