Advocate Calls on Tennessee Jail To Conduct HIV Tests, Condom Distribution
In an effort to curb the spread of HIV among its inmates, Tennessee's Shelby County Jail is being urged to distribute condoms and require regular HIV/AIDS testing in a program similar to those in effect in jails in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports. Members of the County Commission on Wednesday heard advocate Novella Smith Arnold -- a former candidate for the Memphis City Council -- say that there is an "epidemic" of HIV/AIDS among inmates in the Shelby County Jail. Arnold also asked that commission members give approval for condoms to be distributed in the jail. "AIDS is still alive and well," Arnold said, adding that HIV/AIDS is "coming out of the jail to the black community, and our black women are suffering."
According to the Commercial Appeal, 10,495 of the 31,645 inmates in the Shelby County Jail this year have volunteered for HIV/AIDS testing, with 215, or 2.04%, testing positive. If the jail adopts the program, it would be the first in Tennessee to do so. The sheriff's office said HIV testing currently is not mandatory because the booking process already is stressful to some inmates, according to the Commercial Appeal.
Commission members, as well as health and law enforcement officials, had mixed reactions to the proposals, the Commercial Appeal reports. Commission member Henri Brooks said if the sheriff's office does not adopt the condom distribution program, she will introduce a resolution to do so. "The jail needs to get the message that, if you're going to do this, then at least protect yourself," she said, adding that the "reality is they are having sex." Increased testing and proper care for inmates living with HIV/AIDS would be a better way to address and control the spread of the virus than condom distribution, Yvonne Madlock, director of the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department, said. Harvey Kennedy, the chief administrative officer for Sheriff Mark Luttrell, said a condom distribution program could "be sending a signal to anyone who walks through the door that you are at high risk" of being sexually assaulted. He added that consensual sex might occur among inmates who share cells (Doniach, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 10/2).