n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Harm and risk reduction in prisons

Volume 16, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



Harm reduction originated as a framework for dealing with substance use and abuse (Riley 1993 : 1) and has gained impetus over the past decade because of the spread of AIDS. Although general belief has it that HIV is spread through sexual contact, injection drug use has become one of the primary risk factors for HIV infection (Inciardi & Harrison 2000 : 2). Harm reduction, therefore, began as a strategy to intervene in injection drug use communities to allow drug users to adopt risk reduction practices that prevent the spread of HIV. As a front-runner in terms of incarceration, America declared war on drugs during the late 1980s. Drug-related offences ignited an explosion in prison population growth. According to Schmalleger and Smykla (2001 : 325) the number of American inmates who needed substance abuse treatment rose from 688 000 in 1993 to 840 000 in 1996.

Lately, South Africa has become one of the lucrative new drug markets of the world. Drug use increased in public as well as in institutional settings. The number of people arrested in South Africa for dealing in hard drugs like cocaine rose from 15 in 1995 to 75 in 1997 ( 2001 : 1). According to the findings in a study by the University of Cape Town (Mans 2000 : 12) Grade 11 pupils spent more than 22 million rands on mandrax, dagga (marijuana), alcohol and cigarettes in 1999 alone. At the same time the country's struggling with the high incidence of HIV behind bars. The discussion about harm and risk reduction aims at giving perspective of the role of prisons in this particular area.

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