Prisoners high after red-back milk run
By Gerard Noonan
September 8, 2004
Prisoners at Grafton jail have been caught breeding red-back spiders, supposedly to milk the venom, dilute it and inject it as a drug.
The red-backs, 80 litres of prison hooch and a 40-centimetre marijuana plant in a prison vegetable patch at Long Bay jail are evidence of what the NSW Opposition calls "holiday farm" conditions in jails.
Its justice spokesman, Andrew Humpherson, obtained the data using freedom of information laws to compare seizures by prison authorities in the first quarter of 2004 and the same period last year.
But a NSW Department of Corrective Services spokesman said last night there was no evidence to support the spider claims. He said the inmate who suggested other prisoners bred the spiders for their venom was not credible and no drug paraphernalia was found near the spiders.
The FoI documents show that at Windsor jail, five inmates were breath-tested in the metal shop in February with blood alcohol readings ranging from .02 to .25 after guards found two two-litre bottles, one with a litre of alcoholic prison brew still in it.
Fourteen jail brews totalling more than 80 litres were discovered in the first quarter of 2004 compared with seven finds totalling more than 30 litres in the first quarter of 2003.
The four large red-backs were found in a search at Grafton jail on February 19. The notification of the discovery states: "4 large red black [sic] spiders in a container (inmates milk the spiders, water the venom down and inject for a high), scissors, bong".
On the same day at the jail, guards also found a knife made from a toothbrush handle and a cutting blade.
The Justice Minister, John Hatzistergos, also denied claims that prisoners used venom for injections. His scepticism is shared by a spider expert at the Australian Museum, who suggested the prisoners might be "having a lend of" prison authorities.
A principal research scientist at the museum, Dr Mike Gray, said laboratory conditions would be needed to dissect a red-back's venom gland, homogenise it and then draw off the venomous faction. "If they're really doing it, they're pretty good, but it sounds fanciful to me," he said.
As for getting a high from injecting the venom, Dr Gray said injecting was doing exactly what the red-back was trying to do, except it had difficulty getting directly into the bloodstream.
Mr Hatzistergos said figures for the first half of 2004 showed visitor searches rose from 19,000 in the first half of 2003 to 30,000 in the same period this year.