Back grey_arrow_rt.gif
 
 
Bill Would Require Prisons To Provide HIV Counseling, Prevention Education, Condoms
 
 
  Bill aims to limit spread of HIV, AIDS by prisoners
Lee's legislation includes education, condoms

 
A bill (HR 178) introduced in January by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) would require federal prisons to provide HIV counseling and prevention education and to distribute "sexual barrier protection devices" to inmates, the Oakland Tribune reports. The legislation also would require officials to regularly survey state and county correctional facilities to determine inmate groups most affected by HIV/AIDS and to develop strategies to treat HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in prisons (Gokhman, Oakland Tribune, 3/7). Although some jurisdictions, including San Francisco, allow condoms in prisons, most states classify condoms as contraband. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, AIDS prevalence among inmates is triple that in the U.S. population as a whole. In addition, black inmates are 3.5 times as likely as white inmates and 2.5 times as likely as Latino inmates to die from AIDS-related illnesses (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/19/06). About 25% of HIV-positive people in the U.S. annually pass through correctional facilities, according to BJS. Lee at a press conference last week said, "People need to understand that when a prisoner is infected, we are all affected" (Oakland Tribune, 3/7). The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security (HR 178 actions, 3/7). Kaisernetwork.org
 
Contracostatimes.com
By Roman Gokhman
 
A bill by U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, proposes to educate incarcerated people about the dangers of HIV and AIDS while they are in custody in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus once they are released.
 
"Ninety-five percent of inmates come back into our community," Lee said at a news conference last week about the "AIDS pandemic" in the United States and specifically in Alameda County. "People need to understand that when a prisoner is infected, we are all affected."
 
The first correctional facility that most convicts or crime suspects see in Alameda County is Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, the sixth-largest county jail in the country.
 
Alameda County sheriff's Capt. Bert Wilkinson, who runs Santa Rita, said his department tries to stay ahead of the curve of HIV services for inmates, and although there is no distribution of condoms -- one of the bill's key points -- the jail offers HIV tests, counseling and treatment.
 
"We have a myriad of inmate programs that deal with HIV and other diseases that the inmates are (in danger of contracting)," he said.
 
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 25 percent of the HIV-positive population nationwide passes through correctional facilities each year.
 
Minorities account for the majority of AIDS-related deaths among incarcerated persons, with African-Americans 31/2 times more likely than whites to die.
 
"We are sending men back from prisons ... as bullets into our community because they don't know their status; they've not been treated, and they've not been tested," Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums said at the news conference.
 
House Resolution 178, called the Justice Act of 2007, was introduced by Lee in September and reintroduced last month. It stresses education and treatment for incarcerated people.
 
If approved, federal, state and county correctional facilities would be affected, said a staff member in Lee's office. Prisons would have to distribute "sexual barrier protection devices" and provide counseling and education in federal prisons.
 
Officials would be required to survey state and county facilities regularly to find out which groups of people are affected the most and come up with strategies to deal with sexually transmitted diseases and infections.

 
The number of HIV- and AIDS-diagnosed inmates in Santa Rita varies, Wilkinson said. Of about 3,800 inmates at the jail and 300 inmates kept at other facilities -- all seriously ill inmates are kept at Santa Rita -- 42 were being treated for HIV or AIDS as of Monday.
 
Wilkinson said Santa Rita offers HIV testing to any inmate who wants it, but would not force a test unless some sort of transfer of blood occurred in an assault and the other party wants it.
 
"Any inmate who comes into custody and requests a test gets a test," Wilkinson said.
 
The county contracts with Prison Health Services of Tennessee, a medical firm that staffs jails with doctors and counselors. Among those doctors is an HIV and AIDS specialist, Wilkinson said.
 
Through the jail's inmate services program, several HIV and AIDS education classes are offered. For example, there is a class specifically targeted at pregnant women and a class specifically targeted at mothers who have the virus or disease.
 
It is illegal in California to distribute condoms to inmates. San Francisco County does it by calling the condoms an educational tool.
 
Wilkinson said a few sexual assaults do occur inside the jail -- where an inmate can pass HIV to another inmate -- but that number is low, and the department thinks the best way to help inmates is to make sure they continue to receive a high level of care once they are released.
 
"We have strong ties to the community and referrals to treatment programs outside the jail," Wilkinson said. "What we're most concerned with is that when someone leaves our custody, there is a continuing ... treatment that they are receiving. We will go so far as to make appointments for them before they leave (the jail). That's where all our emphasis is."
 
 
 
 
  icon paper stack View Older Articles   Back to Top   www.natap.org