Australia to open specialist drug jail

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The Independent Online

Australia is to open its first "drug jail", where inmates will be forced to undergo treatment for their addiction and abstain from taking drugs or face transfer to a mainstream prison.

Australia is to open its first "drug jail", where inmates will be forced to undergo treatment for their addiction and abstain from taking drugs or face transfer to a mainstream prison.

The facility, to be established in a wing of an existing prison in Sydney, represents a radical approach to the linked problems of drug dependency and crime. The Netherlands is the only other country to have introduced mandatory treatment programmes for offenders.

People who repeatedly commit crimes as a result of their addiction will be sentenced to a fixed term of 18 months to three years. They will have to submit to regular and random drug tests. If they remain drug-free, they will be given privileges such as increased family visits.

The project was announced by the state government in New South Wales, which has experimented with creative ways of addressing the drug problem since holding a "drug summit" in 1999. A supervised heroin injecting room opened in Sydney three years ago, and a special "drug court" has been set up to deal with offences related to addiction.

It is this court that will send offenders to the new prison facility, which will admit the first of up to 100 male inmates by the end of next year.

The New South Wales premier, Bob Carr, who has a reputation for being tough on crime, said an estimated 70 to 80 per cent of the prison population was serving sentences for drug-related offences. "By isolating drug criminals and providing treatment and rehabilitation, we plan to break the destructive drug-crime cycle," he said. The initiative will be assessed after two years with a view to extending it to women.

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