Illinois Gov. Blagojevich To Sign Legislation Focusing on HIV Prevention Among Blacks
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) on Friday was expected to sign legislation, known as the African American HIV/AIDS Response Act, that focuses on preventing HIV among blacks in the state by targeting the link between disproportionately high incarceration rates and HIV transmission, the Chicago Tribune reports. The bill -- which is thought to be the first of its kind in the U.S. -- mandates that the Department of Corrections and county jails offer voluntary HIV testing at no cost to inmates when they arrive, during their imprisonment and before their release. Currently, limited HIV testing is available for a small fee in state prisons and some jails. The measure also requires the corrections department and other agencies to provide transitional case management and referrals for support services to HIV-positive inmates upon their release. In addition, the measure will require busy state offices, such as driver's license and public aid offices, that are located in high-risk communities to provide space for community groups to offer rapid HIV testing. The bill also creates an African-American HIV/AIDS response officer position in the governor's office and the state departments of health, human services and corrections to coordinate efforts to fight the epidemic. Under the measure, Chicago State University will conduct a study to investigate and quantify the correlation between imprisonment and HIV infection. Services offered under the bill will be available to all groups, not just blacks, according to the Tribune.
The law is expected to take effect Jan. 1, 2006. Officials estimate a need for about $2.2 million annually to implement the act, but funds have not yet been appropriated. A nine-member panel in the governor's office, including two former inmates and representatives from three HIV/AIDS organizations, will evaluate how well the prison system implements the provisions in the bill. According to state health and census figures, blacks in Illinois represent 15% of the population but account for 51% of AIDS cases and 65% of the state prison population. HIV prevalence among Illinois prisoners is estimated to be five times the rate among the general population, according to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (Briggs, Chicago Tribune, 8/19).