Palm Beach County, Fla., Commission Endorses Plan To Ask Legislature To Allow Mandatory HIV Testing of Jail Inmates
Palm Beach County, Fla., commissioners on Tuesday agreed to ask state legislators to change state law to allow for mandatory HIV testing of every county jail inmate, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reports. Under a plan discussed at the meeting, inmates would be required to undergo testing regardless of whether they had been convicted of a crime. Between 45,000 and 50,000 people each year are booked into the jail, and up to 70% of them are awaiting trial, L. Diana Cunningham, executive director of the Palm Beach County Criminal Justice Commission, said. Commissioner Addie Greene, who has made mandatory HIV testing of prisoners a priority, said that he believes that requiring HIV tests for prisoners would help stop the spread of the virus, especially among minority groups. However, Greene on Tuesday could not explain how the testing might achieve that goal. Ruth Gottlieb, chair of the Palm Beach ACLU, said that curbing the spread of HIV among minorities would take education because she said "you're only dealing with a small percentage of the minority community" in prisons. Gottlieb added, "Mandatory HIV testing is wrong. We don't believe in that." Gerald Adams, program director of the county HIV Care Council, said that he "absolutely" favored mandatory HIV testing for jail inmates, adding that it would be "no different from kids being immunized prior to their entering school." He also said that "all possible avenues" to prevent the disease from spreading should be explored.
Several commissioners acknowledged concerns regarding the plan. Commissioner Mary McCarty said that the civil liberties implications of the plan are a "sticky wicket," and Commissioner Warren Newell said that civil rights issues would need to be studied. Commissioners Karen Marcus and Tony Masilotti said that they wanted cost information; no one had cost estimates on Tuesday, the Sun-Sentinel reports. Palm Beach County Health Department Director Dr. Jean Malecki heard the commissioners' discussion, but did not speak at the meeting. Later she said that people on both sides of the issue have strong cases, but she declined to say whether she would also support such a plan (Man, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 7/9).