The 1st conference of the CONNECTIONS project "Joining the dots: criminal justice, treatment and harm reduction" took place in Krakow, Poland on the 25-27 March 2009.
The conference saw the participation of many delegates from European countries and beyond, together with experts and speakers from the academic field, NGO's, prison administration, international organisations, the police and users unions representatives.
The conference opened with a “Polish session” on Wednesday morning on substitution treatment in prison and run through plenary and parallel sessions covering the journey of a drug user within the criminal justice system from the phase of arrest through sentencing in court, alternatives to imprisonment - where iand when mplemented - and then prison and, not less important, the phase of release and aftercare.
The ‘Connections’ project, launched in Autumn 2007, managed by The European Institute of Social Services (EISS) of the University of Kent and co-funded by the European Commission Public Health Programme focuses on the potential for partnerships within criminal justice systems of the EU Member States to develop joined-up responses to drugs and related-infections, particularly HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.
The three year project will facilitate the introduction and promotion – at national and European level – of more effective, comprehensive, evidence-based policies and services to respond to drugs and infections in prison and within the wider context of the criminal justice system. Public health and human rights based approaches and priorities will guide the project towards the promotion of comprehensive continuity of care.
The Project partners belong to civil society organisations, research bodies and service providers from different EU countries. Connections collaborating partners include national prison administrations, criminal justice agencies, health authorities, academic bodies and NGOs in Europe.
Although drug use and related infections such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis continue to present significant challenges for prisons, public health authorities, law enforcement and national governments, European epidemiological data on drug use and infections in prison and the criminal justice system is uneven. Available studies show that, compared with the general population, drug users are overrepresented in arrest figures and in prisons, that prisons provide for a risky environment for drug use and the spread of infections and that the criminal justice system therefore has an important part to play in reducing problematic drug use and associated public health problems.
High rates of re-offending among drug users bring this particular population into frequent contact with the criminal justice system. Yet, the criminal justice systems of many EU Member States often lack expertise to respond effectively to halt the cycle of re-offending which is so common amongst problematic drug users. Effective responses include harm reduction and drug treatment in prisons, aftercare services upon release and treatment alternatives to incarceration.
International recommendations and guidelines informed by available evidence and current research call for multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral responses to address and respond to the needs of offending-drug users and to prevent the spread of drug-related infections in prisons and thus to the community as a whole. The ‘Connections’ project aims to facilitate the design and implementation of such responses at national and European level.
Marginalised populations, in particular problematic drug users, are at risk of blood borne infections and diseases whilst in custody. Conditions in custody and other criminal justice processes can increase the chances of cross-infection to other drug users, to criminal justice staff and the community at large. For many within these populations, a police cell, a court, a prison or other criminal justice settings can represent the first opportunity to access basic health care, treatment, prevention education, counselling and testing. Intervention with drug users within the criminal justice system can assist in breaking cycles of addiction and incarceration, as well as contributing to the prevention of transmission of infections. It can further benefit the wider community through reduced medical/social welfare costs, more effective public health policies and reductions in drug-related crime.