Ohio Corrections Chief Responds to Akron Beacon Journal Articles on HIV/AIDS in Prisons
A recent five-article series published in the Akron Beacon Journal documenting the high rates of HIV infection in Ohio prisons places too much "blame" on jails for the problem of HIV/AIDS, which is rooted in a number of societal and other outside factors, Reginald Wilkinson, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, writes in a Beacon Journal op-ed. Wilkinson notes that many prisoners come from a part of society that is already at high risk for HIV and hepatitis C infection, but he adds that despite their backgrounds, only 1.24% of Ohio prisoners test positive for HIV when they enter the corrections system. He states that "few, if any, documented cases of [HIV] transmission during incarceration have been reported to us by inmates," and cites a recent study of Rhode Island prisons that found that "intra-prison transmission of [HIV] is very low." The Ohio corrections system addresses HIV/AIDS "aggressively, with zero tolerance for drugs, sex, tattooing and other forms of transmission," Wilkinson states. He says that the state offers several "no-nonsense" HIV prevention and education programs to prisoners. For example, nurses from local health departments and local AIDS groups provide education to inmates, and HIV-positive inmates are given information about health care resources available to them upon release, he says. Wilkinson writes that there has been no scientific consensus on the effectiveness of providing condoms to inmates to reduce HIV transmission. He states that although corrections officials could test each inmate for HIV when he or she leaves prison, there might be no "value" to such large-scale screening. "Unless such testing would indicate that we have a serious problem of AIDS running rampant in our prions, there's not much point in expending the resources, especially because we already know that the number of incarcerated individuals who are infected with HIV is low," he writes. Wilkinson concludes, "We are determined to remain vigilant on this issue, but we refuse to shoulder the responsibility for what is clearly a wide-ranging and complex social problem" (Wilkinson, Akron Beacon Journal, 4/3).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.