Witness Seminar: HIV/AIDS Prison Policy in England and Wales, 1980s-1990s

Editor’s Note: Recently Drs. Janet Weston and (current ADHS president) Virginia Berridge hosted a witness seminar, a method of oral history collection through group recollections, on the development of prison policy regarding HIV/AIDS since the early 1980s at LSHTM’S Centre for History in Public Health. Below is a more thorough description of the event that may be of interest Points readers. Contact Dr. Weston for more information at janet.weston@lshtm.ac.uk.

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The seminar in progress

As part of the Prisoners, Medical Care, and Entitlement to Health project, we organised a witness seminar in May 2017 as an opportunity for key individuals to discuss their experiences and memories of the development of prison policy around HIV/AIDS.

We invited 12 people to participate, including Sir Richard Tilt, former Governor and Director General of the Prison Service of England & Wales, Dame Ruth Runciman, former chair of the AIDS working group of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and co-founder of the Prison Reform Trust, and Mike Trace, former Director of the Cranstoun Parole Release Scheme and Chief Executive of the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust. They were joined in conversation by former governors, drugs workers, public health advisers, and representatives of the National AIDS Trust and Department of Health.

The experiences of our speakers began in the early 1980s, just as AIDS was emerging as a new and unclear threat. Speakers recalled the lack of information and enormous fear surrounding HIV/AIDS, and the initial impulse to provide special segregated facilities for prisoners with HIV/AIDS. Reflections and experiences encompassed the 1990s as well, with worries about bad headlines, disagreements between Ministers and prison administrators over controversial issues such as providing condoms or needle exchanges in prisons, and a lack of funding for prison healthcare in general making their mark. However, the witness seminar also drew out some of the good work that was done by committed individuals and committees and the changes that were introduced, often as a result of practice informing policy. Ultimately, as many speakers pointed out, prisons could be ‘doggedly resistant’ to change, but they also reflected the attitudes of the wider community and its concerns and priorities.

View a transcript of the seminar here.

 

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