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Harm Reduction in the Prison System in Turkey

The Turkish authorities have seen a considerable increase in the number of drug related offences and drug use over the past decade. It has been estimated that at least seventy percent of the inmates have used drugs at least once. In order to be able to effectively deal with this, the problem needs to be acknowledged, and the negative labelling and criminalization of drug addicted detainees needs to stop. In the current Turkish circumstances, problems of drug users cannot be approached separately from general health issues in prisons. Pressing problems related to prisoners’ health make it impossible to focus solely on the implementation of harm reduction programmes. The NHC, together with the Dutch Correctional Institutions Agency (Dienst Justitiele Inrichtingen), had cooperated before in projects related to the problem of recidivism among drug users in other countries. It could therefore offer expertise to support the Turkish prison authorities. Funding was provided by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for whom harm reduction practises were a priority in their human rights policies.

Our Aim

This project aimed to promote health awareness and lay a solid foundation for harm reduction and health promotion activities in three selected pilot prisons in Istanbul (Ümraniye, Silivri and Metris prison). The idea behind harm reduction is to reduce the risk of drug addicts harming themselves and the society without requiring people to beat their addiction.

Milestones Achieved

During the project, local staff members were trained to conduct research using the Rapid Assessment and Response (RAR) method, which is an active type of research focussed on the development of fast and effective health-related interventions. They applied this, and were further trained on the implementation of harm-reduction programs and providing information to inmates on health and drug related subjects. This approach was deliberately designed to take into account both the general prison health care and health problems related to drug use. Booklets were produced for the staff, inmates and their families on health issues such as infectious diseases and hygiene.

The extensive RAR process has given the pilot institutions an increased understanding of the problems related to health conditions, health awareness and drug use in their prisons and of interventions. The Turkish Prison Service and the staff of the three penitentiary institutions involved have gained practical experience with the development of health promotion activities for prisoners, especially drug users, and with implementing health promotion programmes in prisons.

Project Implementation

Funder: NL EVD International – MPAP

Partners: Custodial Institutions Agency (DJI), Trimbos Institute, Dutch Education Department of the Prison Service (OI DJI), General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses, Turkish Ministry of Justice, Yeniden Health and Education Society

Project period: January 2010 – August 2012