Christopher Knaus July 18, 2012
A doctor is calling for conjugal visits to be allowed at Bimberi Youth Justice Centre. Photo: Elesa Lee
A doctor treating juvenile detainees has called for conjugal visits to be considered at the ACT's youth justice centre to help stop the spread of disease.
Michael Levy, who works as a doctor at Bimberi and the Alexander Maconochie Centre, said there was a reluctance by authorities to admit those detained at the Bimberi Youth Justice Centre were sexually active and that, in rare cases, they were injecting illicit drugs.
Dr Levy raised the issues of conjugal visits during a speech by Human Rights and Discrimination Commissioner Helen Watchirs at the University of Canberra today.
He warned that those inside Bimberi were at high risk of Hepatitis C and other diseases.
"Young people at Bimberi, and they're between the ages of 14 and 18, overwhelmingly they're sexually active and they give very strong histories of illicit drug use," Dr Levy said.
"Being their doctor I know this is the age they acquire blood borne viruses and sexually transmitted infections, and I'm concerned that we're not yet able to completely address those issues," he said.
Minister for Community Services Joy Burch said the government was not considering conjugal visits at Bimberi.
Ms Burch said the issue was not raised by the Human Rights Commission in the review of the youth justice system last year.
"There is no youth justice facility in Australia that allows conjugal visits, and at this stage this is not something the ACT Government will consider," Ms Burch said.
Dr Levy acknowledged it was a "controversial" idea, but said the reluctance to consider conjugal visits was putting the health of young detainees at risk.
"We don't acknowledge it so we don't have the capacity to introduce them into functional, safe sexual relationships, and that has health risks," Dr Levy said.
"They will acquire hepatitis C, we know that, there are large studies undertaken in NSW that show by the age of 25 the kids who have been in detention have an unbelievably high prevalence of Hepatitis C, they're contracting Chlamydia, they're having pregnancies," he said.
"Those pregnancies are happening because the message of safer sex is not getting through."
Dr Levy also said a needle and syringe program would have health benefits at the youth centre.
He said the issue had been discussed for years in the Legislative Assembly, but ultimately decided against.