Florida Bill Would Mandate HIV Testing for All Prison Inmates Prior to Release
A Florida bill (HB 1289) that will soon go to Gov. Jeb Bush (R) for approval would require that the Department of Corrections test all state prison inmates for HIV infection 60 days before their release, the Miami Herald reports. The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Frederica Wilson (D) and passed by both the House and Senate last month, aims to reduce the rate of new HIV infections in the state, especially among blacks and Hispanics, who make up the majority of Florida's total reported AIDS cases, as well as the majority of the state's prison population. Under the bill -- which would take effect in September if signed -- an inmate who tested positive for HIV would receive information regarding the prevention of HIV transmission and the names of health care and HIV/AIDS service providers in the area where he or she planned to reside. A positive test result would be given to the inmate, the state Department of Health and the health department in the county where the inmate planned to live. The Legislature appropriated $793,244 -- slightly more than half of what the Department of Corrections requested -- to cover the cost of the program.
Balancing Privacy and Public Health
Although HIV testing among inmates is currently voluntary, the bill would require that all inmates undergo testing, with or without their consent. Critics of the bill say that it violates privacy rights and is "counterproductive," as it will "bree[d] hostility" among inmates. ACLU Prisoners' Rights Project attorney Jack Beck called the proposed mandatory testing "unrealistic," saying that 60 days is not "enough time for effective education before inmates reenter society." Beck added, "Knowing your status is important, but only if the person is prepared to accept that information and act upon it. ... They need the time to process the info ... before they enter the candy store -- all the things they've been denied for so long." Wilson is "optimistic" that Bush will sign the measure into law because the bill contains an amendment, requested by Bush, that limits the state's liability in HIV test administration. According to the Department of Corrections, the HIV infection rate among male inmates is 12 times higher than the rate in the state's general population, and the infection rate among female prisoners is 60 times higher than in the general population (Robinson, Miami Herald, 4/21).