Defined Terms

Drug Taking - Needle Sharing - Hepatitis - Mental Health plus Social Costs Of Imprisonment





Below is an extract from DOING TIME - DRUG USE IN AUSTRALIAN PRISONS - Anex Bulletin volume 4  edition 1:

"It’s no secret that despite ongoing supply and demand reduction efforts drugs are still being smuggled into and being used inside Australia’s prisons. The link between illicit drug use and incarceration is well established with numerous studies showing high incarceration rates among problematic drug users. The NSW Inmate Health Survey of 2001 found that 74 percent of female and 67 percent of male inmates had used illicit drugs regularly in the twelve months before entering prison.

        "Of those surveyed 13 percent of women and 14 percent of men said they had injected drugs while in prison...”

Caroline Gillespie is a Drug and Alcohol Counsellor and the Team Leader for the Brosnan Centre’s Bridging the Gap Program in Victoria, which assists 17 – 25 year olds upon release.  She said the picture of drug use was very similar for Australia’s young offenders.

“We know that there is a lot of cannabis and heroin use as well as people diverting buprenorphine to be injected,” she said.

“We also know that prescription medication, such as benzos and psychiatric medications are fair game.

“People need to understand that life inside prisons is all about currency and power.

“Drugs, buprenorphine and prescription medications can be traded for things like cigarettes or people stand over others to get access to their medications.

“Some people might choose to go on methadone but are pressured to take buprenorphine because it can be easily diverted.

“They then either trade their dose or it is supplied to someone who has power over them.

Caroline said the result of drug use inside prisons was needle sharing.

“The issue of sharing is very real,” she said. “One needle tends to be used by a lot of people.”

“The result of that sharing is already obvious –we mainly see cases of hepatitis C – a trend that is already well documented.

“Some people will make a decision not to use while inside because of the issues around sharing but it isn’t a deterrent for most.

“Most people will continue to use and some will come out with a full habit.”

Each state and territory in Australia is responsible for the health of people who have been incarcerated and, while each state’s response to drug use is different, it is clear that all invest most energy in supply and demand reduction programs.

The Australian National Council on Drugs issued a discussion paper titled, Supply, Demand and Harm Reduction Strategies in Australian Prisons: Implementation, Cost and Evaluation, in July 2004.

Representing the first attempt to document the nature and breadth of drug strategies that have been developed by prison authorities the paper highlighted the need for a more consistent approach.

All states and territories use sniffer dogs and urinalysis programs as supply reduction measures.

Detoxification, opioid maintenance therapies and inmate counselling are commonly used demand reduction initiatives.

While no Australian prison offers a needle and syringe program the different states and territories have integrated some harm reduction measures.

All states and territories except Queensland provide inmates with harm reduction education; three states provide peer education programs and five states and territories offer bleach/detergent programs. Procedures for blood borne virus testing vary in each state and territory. For example, in NSW blood borne virus testing occurs as part of a screening program for at-risk prisoners, whereas in South Australia and Western Australia it is provided on a voluntary basis. Tasmania ceased compulsory testing for HIV during 2003.

Queensland’s Sister’s Inside has now managed to organise a hepatitis C education program for female inmates in the state.

Debbie Kilroy said the program provides, “health messages within a harm minimisation framework”.

“The program teaches the women how to grow their own herbs and fruit and vegetables to help lead a healthier lifestyle,” she said.

“We don’t tell people not to use drugs but make sure they know that there are dangers, especially around hepatitis C, and offer drug education.”

“If people aren’t going to stop then they need to know how to reduce the harm.”

Below are extracts from a recent ABC News article "Voula Delios: Prison advocates warn of repeat killings unless mental health addressed in jail" about a mentally ill prisoner, Daryl Cook, who was released from Risdon Prison in 2016 and stabbed to death an elderly woman working in her grocer store a day later:

"Where is the duty of care to the community to ensure that people exiting prison have the support they need?"

 “Until the community understands you get tragedies if you do not treat people well within the prison system, when they're released we are going to continue to see tragic events.

On Thurs, 13th Sept 2018, a Supreme Court jury found Daryl Cook not guilty of murder on the grounds that he was insane at the time.  Instead, he was committed to Wilfred Lopes Centre for Mental Health, near Risdon Prison.

2009 NSW Inmate Health Survey: Key Findings Report  - Executive Summary snapshots inter alia the material problems associated with inmate behaviour, mental and physical health of inmates in NSW jails.

Drug Taking - Needle Sharing - Hepatitis - Mental Health contains extracts from three articles on the impact of illicit drugs on inmates in Australian prisons.



Below is an extract from The Booming Industry continued: Australian Prisons A 2017 update · January 2017:

Prisoners and disadvantage

All prisoner demographic information confirms that prisoners, as a group, are significantly more disadvantaged than the general population. The description below by John Ryan MLC, Chair of the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into the Increase in Prisoner Population (2002) is supported by more recent analyses (Cunneen et al 2013; Australian Red Cross 2016) and still applies generally:

The prison population consists of men and women who are, on average, of lower socioeconomic status, of poorer health and of lower levels of education than the rest of the population. For example:



*       60% of inmates are not functionally literate or numerate;

*       60% did not complete year 10;

*       64% have no stable family;

*       60% of males and 70% of females had a history of illicit drug use.


Indigenous men and women and those with an intellectual disability or a mental illness are significantly over represented. The majority of prisoners who pass through the prison system each year serve sentences of less than six months.

Prisoners come from and go back to a relatively small number of disadvantaged suburbs or towns with a high proportion dependent upon social housing due to disability, unemployment, domestic violence and poverty; at least 60% were not employed when arrested and very few gain employment upon release with a majority being dependent upon government benefits (Baldry et al 2006; Vinson and Rawsthorne 2015).

Prisoners’ physical health is much worse than the general population. Prisoners in NSW for example have very poor oral health, very high levels of alcohol consumption and tobacco smoking (75% men and 80% women compared with 17% in the general population) and high Australian Prisons levels of Hepatitis C (45% of women and 28% of men) (Indig et al 2010). This is similarly reflected in nation-wide reports on the health of prisoners in Australia (AIHW 2015), for example the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2015) has reported that 32% of prison entrants have ever been told they have a chronic health condition. This is particularly concerning give the vast majority of prisoners are males between 20 and 40 years of age.

The health of Australia's prisoners 2015 - illicit-drug-use  -  Australian Institute of Health and Welfare - Release Date: 

Good mental health care in prisons must begin and end in the community - 24 April 2015

'Brutal' killing shows urgent need for prison mental health review, advocates say

MENTAL ILLNESS AMONG NEW SOUTH WALES PRISONERS - Tony Butler  Stephen Allnutt  -  August 2003

ECU | The Health of Prisoner Evaluation (HoPE) Pilot Project

Drug Use in the Inmate Population prevalence, nature and context - Corrective Services NSW - Research Publication No. 52 - June 2013

The health of Australia’s prisoners 2015 reports:

          "Mental health issues, communicable diseases and risky health behaviours including tobacco smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and illicit use of drugs are key concerns for the health of prisoners in Australia."

Improving Responses to People with Mental Illnesses - The Essential Elements of Specialized Probation Initiatives U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons