Friday, November 19, 2004

People: 'Prisoners' of Drugs'

People who are addicted to heroin usually take the drug because it relieves them of problems such as low self-esteem, distrust and fear of abandonment. They may have poor communication skills and poor relationship skills.

With the family unit crumbling around many people and with feelings of loneliness, un-wantedness and despair becoming more frequent, drugs and alcohol offer a refuge. A financial dilemma that too often leads to acts of crime which pays the cost of feeling ‘normal’. For many, that refuge often becomes a prison cell.

The tragedy here is, once the addict has been sent to prison as a result of the crime, he will more than likely continue to ‘use’ on the inside.

As noted throughout the following pages, the need to focus on drug addiction as a health issue rather than a crime is crucial! A criminal record attaches an enormous stigma and burden on the prisoner/ex-prisoner in our society, even more so if the person happens to be a ‘drug addict’.

Human Rights of this group

Who are drug addicts? They are everyday people-Drug addiction doesn’t discriminate, for it knows no age, no colour, no sex- yet it always knows its victims, and once it has control does not let go without a fight and with much sacrifice of its captives-Its prisoners.

For people caught up in this situation very often go to jail. These prisoners have little next to no chance surviving in our society.

They too often become the ‘forgotten’-perhaps this explains the amount of drug addicts who continually fill our jails.

Here they fit into a world society chooses to ignore. When the ‘offender’ enters the gates to this new world, he leaves behind his loved ones, friends, liberties and freedom. He has lost all his rights as a human being.

All he has now is his ‘habit’. He has lost his identity and is no longer classed as a citizen of society.


For the prisoner who is also an injecting drug user, there are even more issues and factors to deal with not only to survive but, to protect ones health. Within this country, the laws of the Australian Government recognise that a person’s capacity to access health services should not be compromised by reason of imprisonment and that all people should have the basic right to health.

This recognition is also evident in Australian prisons.

Too many men and women incarcerated in our prisons are being forced to compromise their lives and health simply because collectively, the governments of Australia are preventing them from being able to protect themselves.

The failure of our governments to provide adequate and appropriate services to drug users in prison is increasing the rates of blood borne virus transmission and other drug use related health issues.

One of the biggest concerns for the rights of prisoners', lays in the area of health.

There is a right for all prisoners to have their health needs met in the most culturally specific and accessible manner possible. This includes the needs met by drug addicts, which today seem to be the majority of the inmate, [prisoner], population.

According to an Australian Medical Association report, 83% of prisoners behind bars are there as a result of drug-related offences. In a NSW study it showed the frequent amount of burglaries depended on the rate of spending money on drugs. Neil Comrie, the Victorian Police Commissioner estimates 70% of all criminal activity is drug related. Inadequate treatment services as well as treatment of drug addiction as a crime, rather than a health issue has criminalised a huge number of people.

Criminalising the use of certain drugs could well serve other purposes. Poor people can be ‘scapegoated’.

Our prisons are filled with all kinds of addicts. It is a means of ‘social control’ because ‘poor people’ can’t organise to defend their rights if they’re constantly chasing their‘drug habit’.

The sickening health standards in prison do nothing for a prisoner’s ability to cope with everyday life on release, and put other people in society at great risk!

Society needs to come out of denial thinking that a prison wall solves problems associated with drugs.


Prisoners are a group of people who experience extreme levels of discrimination and marginalisation in society.

Australians are routinely led to believe, by the media and propaganda, that the loss of liberty in itself is not sufficient punishment for those convicted of committing a crime.

We are often bombarded with headlines stating that prisoners are able to access fabulous services and programs and that some punishment. It is probably true to say that the average Australian has no idea of the day to day reality for prisoners-the individual fight for survival in a system that can be both brutal and inhumane.

An inmates, [prisoners], rights and freedoms should be limited only by the need to maintain security and reasonable order. Furthermore, the deprivation of a person’s liberty should be the EXTENT of the punishment, not gratuitous discomfort, abuses or deprivation imposed by prison authorities.

In other words, the prisoner should be considered a citizen who is deprived of his liberty but RETAINS other basic rights and obligations.

Deprivation of liberty is itself, the punishment. Prisoners have little access to social resources as once incarcerated, the law strips them of most civil and human rights - this is their punishment.

“A state’s human rights can be determined by how it treats those marginalised and powerless groups in society. If we ignore and/or abuse the rights of the prison population in this State we do so at our own peril”- Mr.McNally and Mr.Anderson (NSW Young Lawyers). Increasingly we are coming to an acceptance that the right to decent health care and health services are themselves a fundamental human right, along with the traditionally understood rights of ‘free speech’, conscience, religion, assembly or democratic participation.

It was once said by Justice Kirby, many years ago that our fellow citizens are sent to jail as punishment and not for punishment.

All but a handful of prisoners will one day return to the general community.

However, those who oppose the recognition of prisoner’s rights often overlook the fact that inmates, [prisoners], will eventually be called upon to exercise social responsibility and any success in helping these people to acquire greater social maturity can only benefit them and the community.


An example of general exclusion towards prisoners and their families is clearly visible by a newspaper article documented on ABC’s news online:-

A group of affected family members and drug support workers hope to get funding for a local branch of Family Drug Support.

The family support group began in N.S.W by a man who lost his son to a heroin overdose. After discovering his son was a drug addict, he found no one to help him help his son.

He found a barrage of brick walls and was unable to get answers from anyone at that time.

Families were actually being marginalised and pushed away, that nobody had anytime for them, but once you start to give families coping skills they develop resilience and they develop better coping skills. Its then a much better outcome for everyone, including the drug user.

The Deal with Drugs: Inside and Out

The disease model of alcohol and other drug dependence developed in part as a reaction to the moral model. It was supported by Alcoholic Anonymous and by humane clinicians who saw that the punishment and inadequate treatment which seriously ill, alcohol and other drug users received within society was inappropriate and unhelpful.

Our initial response as a nation to unsanctioned drugs was to define which drugs were illegal to use. People alien to the mainstream are still the commonly held perception of those who use illegal drugs. Their drug taking is formerly defined as criminal and informally judged as immoral. Illegal drugs have become the subject of an extensive mythology.

As discussed by the South Australian Royal Commission into the NON-MEDICAL use of drugs- There are 12 myths including that drugs steadily destroy a person’s capacity to control his or her own personal behaviour, and that drugs are abused ONLY by deviant groups, outsiders and undesirables.

As with other drugs the images presented are incomplete. The potentially negative consequences of drug users do not reflect reality. It can be therefore be argued that the images associated with drug use both indicate and reinforce underlying attitudes within the Australian population and note considerable confusion and mystification.

Most people in prisons and other custodial settings, including police custody and juvenile detention, have a history of misusing drugs, yet these settings have the least effective alcohol and other drug treatment procedures throughout the community. People in custody should have the same access to the same quality and level of treatment services as the general public.

This requires not only a fundamental change in the culture within custodial settings, but also a change in the way the criminal justice system responds to the use and misuse of currently illegal drugs.

Sixty-two per cent of offenders reported that they were current regular users of at least one of the four illegal drugs prior to arrest.

Recent drug use monitoring data indicate that 22% of men who were detained and brought to a police station/watch house tested positive for opiates.

Of these male detainees whose most serious charge was property offending, 43% tested positive to opiates and it is known that drug offences directly contribute to approximately 10% of all prisoners in Australia.

Upon leaving prison, the likelihood of a return to drug-use is high for many prisoners. This is particularly so given that individuals may have come to the attention of the criminal justice system, [criminal law system], in the first place as a consequence of ‘self- medicating’ with drugs such as heroin.

Reasons for use are usually in order to help them cope with the often overwhelming stresses of lives that frequently include rejection, homelessness, unemployment, unstable housing, alienation, abusive relationships, poverty, loneliness and an enormous lack of other social opportunities.

We can hardly be surprised if returning prisoners to a more severe version of the lifestyle that led to their imprisonment in the first place quickly proves to also be a return to drug use.

There are a number of areas where prisoners are excluded in their community. Among them those particular males lacking either family or partner support networks.

All newly released prisoners have the same rights to access community social welfare programs as any other citizen. However, the special needs of prisoners frequently make accessing programs of one sort or another difficult.

For example, many domestic violence shelters EXCLUDE people with drug problems, and many hostels the same. These exclusions can seriously impede successful re-integration into the general community. The return from prison to the wider community involves dealing with negative experiences of imprisonment in contexts all too often characterised by isolation, accommodation difficulties, financial and material constraints and a lack of significant emotional support.

The issue of accommodation is central to any genuine attempt at re-integrating newly released prisoners. The cost of four weeks bond, one months rent up front, plus connection of gas/electricity and phone is more often beyond the financial capacity of people immediately leaving prison.

Not surprisingly, men who do not have the support framework of family or partners are often completely isolated in terms of ‘where to go’ once released from prison.

At present, housing assistance for prisoners post-release is plagued with difficulties. Within Victoria, it has been noted that even though prisoners may have been suffering housing crisis or homelessness prior to incarceration, they are not currently able to apply for public housing through any of the priority Segmented Waiting List ( SWL) categories because they are not deemed to be ‘homeless’ in prison.

Additional problems are involved in prisoners being cut off waiting lists for public housing, through being incarcerated and hence under ‘state care’ and the fact that prisoners currently inside incarceration are often not aware of the exact time they may be released( pending parole etc) so are unable to apply for public housing while within prison.

The issues touched upon here are obviously not the only issues impacting upon post-release, and a wide range of other factors could also have been cited, such as alienation, unemployment and low self-esteem.


There has to be a better way:

Acceptance- to understand, to take or receive, acknowledge, admit,

Tolerance- to tolerate, to allow, permit, bear without repugnance.

Rather than ignoring their existence, begin by teaching awareness to society- spread the message of compassion and humility.

This group of people were once just civilians living with an illness.

To tell you it was so much easier to write about all the injustices and negative aspects of this group, is on its own saying something about how we live and think in society.

To confront something we would rather ignore shows the amount of prejudice and discrimination which is sadly too often passed on to the next generation.

A preconceived notion that the word ‘prisoner’ represents the ‘bad people’ in society.

Meanwhile, our prisons are full to overflowing with those we choose to forget, and even when they have served their ‘debt to society’, it is never fully justified.

So long as the ‘bad people’ are kept away from the ‘good’, life can go on and will go on.

But what happens to the prisoner of drugs??

What becomes of them once behind bars??

The reality is, stepping out of our community and into the prison society, can only be described as a completely different world.

Everything we simply take for granted is taken away. You have entered an untolerable society where the rules to life are not governed by law, but by those in charge of the jail.

For first offenders, survival is the first lesson, and one of those lessons is learning to stand your ground and defend yourself. There are no friends, no support. It’s every man for himself. Learning ‘their’ rules is a must! This includes the ‘lingo’ and their meanings. It applies to each new life that passes through the prison gates.

Changes- we can’t waste time:

There are a number of issues which constantly need addressing where the drug addict is concerned. The debate goes on as to the best formula for treatment, the best solution.

One being ‘HARM MINIMISATION IN PRISONS’- So many problems arise within the health sector of our jails due to overcrowding, non-consensual sexual activity, illicit drug use and physical violence are difficult for the community to comprehend.

When prison health care is adequate the costs of providing it are questioned.

Reduction of costs leads to deteriorating services, which may in turn prompt prisoners to react to ‘inhuman or degrading’ treatment. The only protection from this is the principle of equivalence: that services provided to prisoners should be as good as those the state provides for the general community.

Clearly the problem is a medical one that requires law reform to lessen the punitive direction and give support. It means also that money is released. Massive money- three quarters of a billion dollars each year in NSW alone is spent on running jails.

A positive and logical re-address to this would be seeing this money put into assistance schemes and treatment instead. It may in turn help people in society to think more positively of those who are vulnerable-addicts. With such expenditure as it is, is also good reason to put to the public how their tax money is badly spent. It makes a safer community if these people are helped back onto their feet.

Raise the real issues of health and welfare for they desperately need attention. Educating dieticians so that may in turn help with encouraging the system to also focus on healthy eating.

A good diet encourages good self esteem, so too their morale.

From poor health comes so many other ill effects including poor dental hygiene. Another point at boosting a prisoner’s self esteem and self confidence. The failure of our governments to provide more adequate and appropriate service to drug users in prison is increasing the rates of blood borne virus transmissions and other drug use related health issues. All of these problems can be avoided however, if our governments were strong and committed to meeting their duty of care in the prison context.

The provision of holistic services for injecting drug users that include needle and syringe programs will save lives and improve the health of prisoners who inject drugs. This in turn will improve the health of individuals in the wider community.

The soon to be open Drug Court in NSW will operate as a pilot project, accepting a total of 300 drug dependent offenders from the greater western Sydney. The NSW Bureau of Crim Statistics and Research will monitor the project, and will study the health and social functioning of Drug Court participants.

These participants will have jail sentences suspended while they undertake rigorous, individualised programs designed to overcome their drug dependence.

During the 12 month period of his or her program, each Drug Court participant may be required to attend literacy and life skills courses, undergo counselling and hopefully find employment.

Socially- as a group they need to have community building with those who normally are around them.

Do not isolate. They need the reassurance of families and friends no less than we do. Support them by way of bettering their skills, giving them recognition and back up just as any other group may ask for and receive.

The more marginalised they are the more support they need on their own terms. Listening to them and creating organisations that are culturally appropriate. Mentoring with those who have had the same or similar experience and training and payment of those mentors.

What is happening presently is that Welfare money is absorbed by professionals in servicing people with whom they have little in common and whose effect is peripheral.

Practical help, talking-needing reassurance and not to be judged. A need for better prison release preparation programs-ID, health, work and money, accommodation.

Deeper issues we need to address will always be poor self esteem and communication skills.

The prison system often comes down to the question of what’s cheapest and quickest! There’s no money and NO votes in prison! In the midst of this depressing environment, there is a need for a balance between rehabilitation and punishment, between justice and mercy.

The question still remains-Have we just given up on human beings whose lives have been damaged and are we prepared to assist them in maintaining their addiction because their outcome is just too hard? I pray not.


Injecting drug use in prison can lead to other dangers such as Hepatitis C and HIV through unsafe injecting practices and the sharing of needles.

There is an increasing concern about the gaps in service provision for injecting and illicit drug users within the prison system in Australia.

The male drug addict serving a sentence in jail is rapidly becoming of epidemic proportions, therefore the need for equal opportunities which includes the right to decent medical treatment is a necessity.

There is still a great sense of ignorance within our societies as to the difference between prisoner rehabilitation and that of drug rehabilitation.

The End

By Debbie's Quest 19 November 2004

Step In Life

By Debbie's Quest and posted by Gregory Kable 19 November 2004


NSW police drug amnesty under review
A drug amnesty for the New South Wales police force is under review, Police Commissioner Ken Moroney has said. Under the amnesty, police officers who have come forward to say that they have used illegal drugs, are treated by rehabilitation counsellors.

Blunkett's Quest, but is he on drugs?
The legislation is expected to introduce a new definition of "possession" of an illegal drug, making it an offence to have a certain amount in the bloodstream. This is likely to prove controversial - not least because some drugs, such as cannabis, can remain in the bloodstream for weeks.

UK: This absolutely preposterous idea/theory of allowing a person/s to be possibly charged with 'possession', if found to have a drug substance within their bloodstream, just goes to prove such hypocrisies which certain hierarchies feel justifies passing legislation, is another blow for democracy!

Report Concludes Needle Exchange in Prisons Safe and Effective
DUBLIN --- A new report to be 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.

Currently, 214 Australian citizens are languishing in prisons around the world. The majority of these having been convicted of drug-related crimes.

Big Pharma snared by net
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Mice, Lice and Ice, crisis in women's prison
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You're one of my kind?
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Canadian PM pledges to decriminalise marijuana
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Port Lincoln Mayor has lost the plot!
Controversial Port Lincoln Mayor Peter Davis has called for drug addicts to be given a lethal injection to cut rising illicit drug use on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula.

Sign, sign everywhere a sign
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Ten unions are involved in the campaign against the program. They say they do not oppose drug and alcohol testing to prevent and determine impairment, but they are concerned that the trial will force workers to reveal use of prescription medicines or over-the-counter drugs.

NSW Ombudsman to probe police 'move-on' powers
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Drug law blamed for hep C epidemic
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Jail trade in 'sex for favours'
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CWA wants pot legalised
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Another lethal party drug article...
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Drug rehabilitation: Threats, threats and more threats!
But a spokesperson for Citizens Against Being Forced Mr Ihave Amind Ofmyown said, "Major Watters is John Howard's adviser because he's a bully. Citizens make their own decisions about what is best for them and if you don't like that step down."

MPs told of police corruption
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Alcohol is just the beginning
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Tobacco, alcohol top the drug abuse toll
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NSW police cracked up on antisocial behaviour
Hundreds of extra police will be on the streets of Sydney from this afternoon as part of a major blitz on crime and activities as "antisocial behaviour" says the ABC online last Fri 24 May 2002.

Alcohol pickles your brain
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