Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — I would like to rise to briefly speak on the Corrections Legislation Further Amendment Bill 2017. I was almost not going to speak on it — until I heard the minister’s statement today and her being so pleased at the work that they are doing on hepatitis C and increasing the treatment being made available for hep C in jails. I think it is excellent work. The fact that we have finally got a treatment for hepatitis C that can be given to people within six to 12 weeks and can completely cure them of a virus that has been dogging us for years will mean that the cost of looking after those people in the future will be greatly reduced, because most people with hepatitis C will go on to have some form of liver disease and may go on to need liver transplants. The treatment, even as expensive as it is, is actually a very good investment. However, I think this bill actually goes against the work of those treatments.
The bill does a number of things. It is an omnibus bill. From my position, they are largely positive and I am largely supportive of them. But it is the provisions within the bill that relate to drug paraphernalia that will adversely affect health outcomes in prison by increasing bloodborne virus transmission. I think sadly this was actually a time when, while maintaining our prohibition on contraband, increasing our monitoring of contraband and working towards that, we could have also looked at other ways to reduce bloodborne viruses in our jails and reduce risk for the officers who work there, and the basis of my contribution is around the increased penalties for having drug paraphernalia in jails.
In May this year the Australian Medical Association (AMA) called for needle and syringe exchange programs in prisons. They did so because, as the minister also attests, bloodborne virus prevalence in prisons is significantly higher than in other populations. What is worse is that anecdotally — we do not test prisoners when they leave prison, we only test them when they go into prison — we are hearing that more prisoners are coming out of prison with hepatitis C than are going into it. Now, I certainly respect the fact that the hepatitis C treatment programs will hopefully reduce those numbers, but it still goes to the point that people are contracting hepatitis C in prisons, and needle exchange programs could help that.
By making it more difficult around contraband by increasing the penalties what we may see, if increased penalties are successful, is needles taking on greater value in prisons. We already know that because we got rid of cigarettes the barter value of patches and the barter value of syringes in prisons is very high, and the value of that syringe will only increase. I quote the AMA at this point:
Providing evidence‑based prevention, testing, treatment and management, and harm reduction strategies (such as access to condoms and lubricant, regulated NSPs —
needle and syringe programs —
and access to disinfectants such as bleach), are proven to be effective in the prevention of transmission of viral hepatitis and HIV in prisons, and establishing a safer environment for both prisoners and prison officers.
This has been borne out in many countries. The World Health Organization, the UN, UNAIDS and the Office of Drug Control have all concluded that there is evidence showing that needle and syringe programs are feasible in a wide range of prison settings. Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Iran, Afghanistan and at least seven other countries all do this.
Now, when we were in Switzerland recently with the drug law reform inquiry we were told that in actual fact prison officers demand syringe programs in those jails because it is safer, because when you have got needles being hidden in pillows and hidden in mattresses, when prison officers go to search those cells they are more likely to get a needlestick injury and it is more likely that that needle may cause a hepatitis C infection or an HIV infection. They are far more at risk.
By introducing new jail penalties and making it ostensibly harder to have drug paraphernalia, you are incentivising less needles, which means more dirty needles. This does not need an amendment to this bill; this just needs the government to make that decision and act upon it. We were world leaders on needle and syringe programs. We were world leaders on preventing bloodborne viruses in this country, and we can continue to do that. I take this moment to call on the government to reconsider and introduce a trial of a needle and syringe exchange program in prisons. As Mr O’Donohue said, we can never expect our prisons to be free of drugs — drugs will get in — so what we need to do is ensure that prison officers are safe and that the great money we are spending on the treatment of bloodborne viruses like hepatitis C is money well spent, rather than being wasted by leaving the opportunity for people to be reinfected in jails.
I want to touch on Mr O’Donohue’s amendments — again, a bit of good, a bit of bad. I see no problem with protective services officers being able to help out in protecting the parole board. I think that is common sense. It is sensible, and there will be certain instances where that is actually necessary. However, charging prisoners room and board on top of the contribution that they are making to victims of crime funds I think is unnecessary and will have the wrong effect. I imagine myself next to another prisoner in a prison: she is working, and I am not. Now, I get free room and board because I do not work; she has to pay for room and board because she is working. I do not think that that is particularly fair, and I do not think that it helps in encouraging people to start working. If we want our prisoners to learn more about paying their way and getting used to bills, I certainly think we can do that. We do not need to do it through this process.
I encourage the work programs to prepare prisoners for leaving prison and to ensure that they do have work when they leave prison, because we know that employment is one of the best deterrents to recidivism. I think Mr O’Donohue may have been well meaning, and pay‑to‑stay is certainly popular in some of the southern states of the United States, but I do not think in Victoria it is appropriate. I think it is very appropriate that we ask those prisoners to contribute to victims of crime funds, and I think that also helps with preventing recidivism where it enables those prisoners to reflect in terms of their actions and the harm that they caused through those actions. So, well‑meaning Mr O’Donohue: certainly one out of two ain’t bad! I commend the bill.