Thursday, 4 March 2004

Questions (127)

Joe Costello

Question:

122 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the measures he proposes to take to implement the Dublin Declaration on HIV-AIDS in prisons in Europe and Central Asia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7341/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I understand that the document referred to by the Deputy is a policy paper, prepared by a number of individuals working on behalf of a number of non-governmental organisations. This document focuses on certain prevention and treatment strategies for infectious diseases in prisons in Europe and Central Asia. While I have no difficulty with many of the points made in the paper, I do not agree with certain recommendations and statements, such as the provision of sterile syringes and injecting paraphernalia to prisoners. The paper also calls for a policy of harm reduction rather than zero tolerance of drug use in prisons.

In this country, it has been long-standing practice to facilitate the diagnosis and treatment of HIV-AIDS among the prison population and this will continue to be the situation. Prisoners with a diagnosis of HIV, hepatitis, or other infectious disease continue 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 treatment is provided on the basis of informed consent. Emphasis within prisons is on health education and appropriate substitution treatment, where required. There is an ongoing process of education and information supply to prisoners regarding risks of infection and appropriate prevention strategies.

It is 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. The programme for Government commits me to creating a drug free Prison Service with mandatory drug testing of prisoners. I intend to put this commitment into effect and expect to receive shortly, from the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, a new set of prison rules which will make provision for, among other things, mandatory drug testing.

In addition, a group consisting of Irish Prison Service management, including prison governors and health board staff together with relevant clinicians have prepared a draft prison drug treatment policy which I am currently considering.

It is both my policy and that of the Irish Prison Service, in common with most prison systems worldwide, not to issue needles or injecting equipment to prisoners. The Report of the Group to Review the Structure and Organisation of Prison Health Care Services considered the matter of developing a syringe exchange programme within Irish prisons and came to the conclusion that such a step could not be recommended.