States Take on Prison Testing Issue

BY Benjamin Ryan

April 27 2007 12:00 AM ET

Several states are debating the threat that HIV poses to their prison populations and ultimately'as inmates are released'all citizens.

Arkansas: The state already requires HIV testing for incoming prisoners, and the legislature has voted to require outgoing testing as well'that legislation awaits the governor's green light.

California: The state's public-safety committee has passed a bill that, in addition to adding obligatory testing upon entry (with an opt-out provision), aims to improve HIV care and partner notification in a state system where overall medical care was so terrible in 2005 that a federal judge seized control of the entire prison health system and placed it in the care of an appointed receiver.

Kentucky: A bill introduced in the state senate would require that prisoners be tested for HIV before release and that the results be made available to the inmate, the warden, the justice secretary, and the prisoner's legal spouse.

Texas: After an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the Department of Criminal Justice to enact a mandatory testing policy for people entering prison, the legislature is moving ahead to make such a policy state law. Inmates must currently undergo testing on release, thanks to legislation passed in 2005. Incoming testing is optional, and a small number opt out, says AIDS Foundation Houston head Kelly McCann. 'In terms of a public-health or prevention perspective, it's exactly what needs to be done,' McCann says of the legislation, adding that HIV care in Texas prisons is 'excellent.'

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, as of 2004, 18 states conducted HIV tests upon prison entry, and three did so upon release.

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