Indiana General Assembly Passes Bill to Require HIV, Hepatitis C Testing of New Prison Inmates
The Indiana General Assembly on Thursday unanimously passed legislation that would mandate HIV and hepatitis C testing of incoming state prison inmates, the Indianapolis Star reports. The bill, which now goes to Gov. Frank O'Bannon (D), was drawn up by state Rep. William Crawford (D) at the "urging" of an inmate who expressed concern that the bloodborne diseases are becoming increasingly common among inmates. "Close contact" in prisons allows for the diseases, especially hepatitis C, which affects the liver, to be "more easily spread" through shared razors and "prison tattoos." According to Department of Corrections officials, as of last summer at least 133 inmates were HIV-positive and another 418 had hepatitis C.
Although the bill has "broad" support in the Assembly, its future may be uncertain because of a state funding shortage. O'Bannon has not indicated whether or not he will sign the measure, but a spokesperson for the governor said he will take a "hard look" at any bill that would incur new expenses. Analysts predict the measure would cost about $180,000 if the number of incoming prisoners matched 2000's figure of 14,000. The law would also allow for the testing of any inmate who entered the system before July 1 -- the date the measure would take effect -- including an additional 18,000 prisoners and costing the state an additional $250,000. Currently, the state does not allocate money for this type of testing. Crawford said that testing and subsequent treatment will actually save the state money by avoiding costs associated with the spread of disease. "If we continue to allow the problem to be ignored, and it grows exponentially, we're going to face a crisis in five or six years ... which we're going to have to pay for anyway," he said. Treatment of hepatitis C currently costs about $15,000 per patient per year, while antiretroviral medications for HIV-positive individuals cost between $10,000 and $15,000 a year. Twenty states currently mandate HIV testing of prisoners, while others also require hepatitis C testing, although the Star cited no specific numbers. Blood testing for the diseases raises concerns about privacy, attorney Sarah Nagy said. "There is a compelling state interest in doing the testing. However, the use of blood (drawn for testing) should be restricted" to ensure that it is not used for other purposes, such as DNA analysis, she said. Such use could constitute an illegal search, she said, adding that the testing "opens up an entire Pandora's box of Fourth Amendment issues" (Masson, Indianapolis Star, 4/15).