Federal Funding for Chicago HIV/AIDS Prevention Program Targeting Recently Released Prisoners Expires; Program Stalls
An "innovative" HIV/AIDS prevention program in Chicago that targets recently released prisoners has lost momentum since its federal funding expired on Sept. 30, the Chicago Tribune reports. The Illinois Public Health Corrections and Community Initiative was launched in 1999 with funding from CDC and the Health Resources Service Administration to help former inmates access HIV/AIDS services after they are released from prison. Funding for the program -- which six other health authorities also operated across the country -- was restricted to five years, and CDC says that local agencies now must assume the costs of the program (Briggs, Chicago Tribune, 11/14). Chicago has secured $250,000 in funding from the Illinois Department of Public Health, under the condition that the program be transformed into a statewide initiative, the AP/Quad-City Times reports. While additional funding is sought, the program is on hold. However, Program Director Kendall Moore said that without the program, HIV incidence rates could rise in certain parts of the city where large numbers of former inmates reside. She said, "It's a powder keg waiting to explode" (AP/Quad-City Times, 11/13). Inmates are at an increased risk of contracting HIV through injection drug use, unprotected sex and unsafe tattooing during incarceration, according to the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of San Francisco. Studies show that prison is a primary factor in the spread of HIV because inmates -- who might have contracted the virus while in prison -- return home and might transmit the virus to their sexual or drug-using partners, according to the Tribune.
As part of the program, inmates being booked into Cook County Jail were offered HIV tests at no cost, and those who tested positive were assigned an internal case manager. Upon their release, former inmates were matched with an external case manager. Case managers worked to ensure that former inmates took their medications, knew how to avoid transmitting HIV and could access a range of social services, according to the Tribune. Once the former inmates no longer needed strict attention, they were transferred into a more standard form of case management. Federal health officials say that former inmates need extra attention because their focus might not be on HIV/AIDS prevention. "For people who are coming out of the justice system, there are often a lot of other needs that supersede, in their mind, their disease," Hugh Potter, a public health adviser at CDC's National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention, said, adding, "It really is about helping people with their life situation oftentimes." Between 2000 and 2004, the program helped 1,287 inmates, of whom 70% were male, 80% were African-American and a majority were poor, according to the Tribune. About 8,000 inmates were tested for HIV in Cook County in 2001 and 3.5% tested positive, according to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 2% of prison inmates nationwide are HIV-positive (Chicago Tribune, 11/14).