June 20, 2008
Prisoners deserve prevention
The State Senate passed legislation (S.8508/A.8849) yesterday that requires New York correctional facilities to provide people in prison with information about the prevention of HIV, and how to obtain HIV-testing and counseling services upon release.
Sponsored by Senator Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples (D-Buffalo), the legislation has already passed the State Assembly, so its fate now rests with Governor David Paterson. One Albany insider said the Governor is likely to sign the bill. "The Governor has long supported effective HIV prevention and education efforts, including the need for special efforts in those communities most affected by the epidemic. This bill makes sense," the source said.
Long known as a champion of people living with HIV and especially people of color, Senator Montgomery, noted that New York has the highest HIV-infected inmate population in the nation. “Incarceration is a major factor in HIV-infection among communities of color, African American and Latino/as in particular,” she said.
A U.S. Department of Justice report revealed that, in 2006, 4,000 inmates, or 6.5 percent, of the total New York State prison population (3,650 men and 350 women) were living with HIV.
“As men and women transition from prison life to their home communities, there should be no wait time for medical and support services,” Montgomery said. The senator's bill stipulates that people being released from prison receive information and referrals to community-based HIV prevention, education and counseling resources located within the communities to which they are returning.
Underscoring the high rate of HIV-infection among communities of color, Assemblywoman Peoples said, “According to a recent study by researchers at D.C. Berkeley, the high rate of African American men in incarceration may also have played a role in the rapid spread of HIV throughout African American communities.” The Berkeley researchers discovered that the increase in AIDS among Black Americans closely corresponds to the rise in incarceration rates of black men over the past two decades.
In 2000, The Correctional Association of New York released a report, titled "Health Care in New York State Prisons." Among the findings, it revealed that, "The New York State prison system has the highest percentage of HIV-positive inmates than any other state prison system in the country. Yet, site visits to 22 prisons revealed uneven care, medical staff who lacked basic knowledge of HIV/AIDS, and inmates who reported they had no idea how to get an AIDS test.