Horror reality: Young, incarcerated, infected and addicted
YOUNG, jailed, addicted to methamphetamine and infected with hepatitis C.
That's the situation facing a young man in Central Queensland's Capricornia Correctional Centre, and his mum has had enough.
The Mt Morgan woman, who wishes to remain anonymous for her and her son's safety, has started campaigning for better drug rehabilitation and treatment programs in Queensland jails.
"My son contracted hep C when he was in jail (from sharing needles) and I am lobbying to try and get some changes brought into the system where they might be able to bring in a rehabilitations program into mandatory sentencing," she said.
"I did some research and found that there's just not enough support for them... and no one wants to look at it.
"Prisoners get ignored because there is a stigma attached, no one wants to know about it. And they're addicts, it's a health issue.
"They're stuck, and they've got no help. You feel helpless."
The mother was also on a mission to get Opioid Substitution Treatment in Queensland jails.
The therapy supplies illicit drug users with a replacement prescribed medicine such as methadone or buprenorphine.
As it stands, the state's male prisons are the only ones in the country that do not offer OST to addicted inmates.
It was the ongoing issue of addiction that forced her son back onto the drug scene while in jail, and she said, ultimately led to him catching hepatitis C (HCV).
Hepatitis Queensland CEO Clint Ferndale said the incidence of HCV was "unacceptably high" in prisons.
"Estimates are that up to 70% of female prisoners and up to 40% of male prisoners are affected by hepatitis C," he said.
"Hepatitis Queensland is a strong advocate for increasing harm reduction measures in prisons.
"With increased harm reduction and treatment in prisons we can defeat this potentially life-threatening virus, improve health outcomes and save the health system the high costs involved in liver disease in the country."
A spokesperson from Queensland Health said Hospital and Health Services in Queensland deliver primary health care based on community standards to detained, remanded and sentenced prisoners in a correctional environment.
"Queensland Health, through some of its funded non-government organisations provides resources for prisoners and for staff working within correctional centres. For example, Hepatitis Queensland provides educational materials for prisoners at prison health expos and materials for use on the in-house television network," they said.
"The Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) provides a range of training programs relating to prevention of blood-borne virus transmission; prevention and management of needlestick injuries; and management of blood spills for staff within prison health services, and for Queensland Corrective Services academy students (occupational health and safety).
"ASHM also provides clinical training for prison health staff relating to the management and treatment of blood-borne viruses."
In addition, when people are released from Corrective Services custody, community-based alcohol and other drug treatment services are available.
"An Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) program for female prisoners was introduced into Queensland female prisons more than 15 years ago due to risks associated with opioid withdrawal during pregnancy - specifically, miscarriage and pre-term delivery," they said.
The Central Queensland mother said her son was shocked and distressed at the HCV diagnosis, and was desperate not to return to jail.
But she said his self-confidence had been shattered by being put in an overcrowded jail among "murderers, rapists and pedophiles".
In a letter to a government MP, the woman said parents, siblings and members of the community were ready to stand up and say 'enough is enough'.
"We are campaigning to ask for the laws to include mandatory sentencing of drug affected persons as part of their sentence where work can be done on improving their morals, self-esteem and making positive changes to integrate them back into society with a positive outcome and decrease the rate of re-offending," she wrote.
"Needle sharing is prevalent, disease being spread is more likely as well as being an injustice to these people, the families of these people and the community who are likely to be targeted by released prisoners with a raging drug addiction upon release from jail, who are suffering from a health problem and being punished by the judicial system.
"Upon the release of my son, he had a drug problem and hep C."
But a Queensland Corrective Services spokesperson said QCS had a zero-tolerance approach to drugs and contraband in prisons, and delivered a range of interventions according to offender's level of assessed risk and treatment need.
"Queensland Corrective Services facilities form a central part of the Government's commitment to deliver safer communities by delivering rehabilitation and re-entry services to effect change in each offender's behaviour," they said.
And other improvements are on the way.
On February 16, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk tabled the Queensland Parole System Review Report and the government response in Parliament, representing the most comprehensive overhaul of Queensland's parole system in a century.
The changes are intended to make the community safer with tougher and stricter supervision of parolees and improved rehabilitation of offenders.
The government is investing an additional $265 million over six years to expand and improve rehabilitation, case management, drug and alcohol and mental health treatment services and re-entry services, along with a significant injection of new staff to support the increasing offender numbers in the Probation and Parole Service.
The spokesperson from QCS said for offenders in custody, particularly the significant numbers of prisoners with a history of illicit substance use, the sweeping reforms would deliver a system of "end-to-end" case management to better prepare offenders for parole, with increased availability of rehabilitation programs, including substance abuse treatment and access to opioid substitution treatment across Queensland.