Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations
Prisons Not Providing Adequate AIDS Education and Care, New York Times Editorial Says
Prisons are "one of the most potentially dangerous incubators of the [AIDS] epidemic," as HIV-positive inmates often do not receive the health care that they need and fellow prisoners are not protected from contracting the virus, an editorial in the New York Times says. Few prisons provide "adequate tools to slow the spread" of HIV, such as condoms or bleach to disinfect needles. The editorial calls this "shortsighted," as "[c]onsensual homosexual relations are widespread in prison, and so is forcible sex," adding that because needles are rare in prison "they are almost always shared." The editorial adds, "Officials should not only work to reduce prisoners' risk of catching [HIV] in prison, they should also help a captive audience learn about safer practices in a way that would stick when the inmates returned to the community." According to New York state estimates, there are approximately 9,000 HIV-positive inmates statewide, more than 1% of the 850,000 Americans with the virus. The AIDS rate is seven times higher in state and federal prisons than in the general population, the editorial continues, "because prisoners have high rates of drug use, are unlikely to practice safe sex or use clean needles, and have sex and drug partners with high rates of infection." Yet only Vermont and Mississippi and the urban jail systems of New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Philadelphia offer inmates condoms, and fewer offer bleach. The editorial states that prison officials may be "reluctant" to provide these amenities for fear of being seen as "encouraging" sex or "acknowledging" illegal drug use. Further, AIDS education and care programs in prisons are "underfinanced and inadequate virtually everywhere," as prison health care providers lack AIDS care training and access to the most sophisticated disease treatment, despite a recent state funding increase to $70 million per year, a 1999 report from the New York State AIDS Advisory Council found. The editorial concludes, "The vast majority of prisoners will eventually go back into the community. Prison offers the opportunity to give these high-risk people the medical care and AIDS education they will not get once outside" (New York Times, 5/21).
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