Rep. Waters Introduces Bill That Would Require Federal Prisons To Provide Inmates With HIV Testing, Treatment, Counseling
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) recently introduced a bill (HR 1943) that would require federal prisons to provide inmates with HIV tests at the beginning and end of their incarcerations, CQ HealthBeat reports. The bill also would require federal prisons to provide inmates with HIV/AIDS counseling, and inmates who test positive would receive access to comprehensive treatment. Although some state prisons require routine HIV testing among inmates and provide treatment access, federal prisons currently do not, according to CQ HealthBeat (Blinkhorn, CQ HealthBeat, 4/24). The bill also includes a provision that would allow inmates to opt out of testing (HR 1943 text, 4/24). Under guidelines released in June 2006 by the Department of Justice's Bureau of Prisons, prisoners can request HIV tests, and prison medical workers are encouraged to conduct tests among inmates who exhibit symptoms of HIV. Under a 2005 policy statement issued by the bureau, HIV tests are mandatory in some cases, and prisoners cannot refuse to be tested. Waters last year introduced a similar bill as part of a campaign to address HIV/AIDS among blacks, who account for a disproportionate share of the country's prison inmates. According to a study released in 2005 by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy, government data indicates that in 1996, more than 50% of prisoners in the U.S. were black. The researchers also found that the increase of HIV/AIDS cases among blacks since the 1980s, most notably among women, corresponds with the increase in the proportion of black men in prison (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/12/06). "Testing is ultimately the key," Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), co-sponsor of the bill, in a statement said, adding, "If people know their status, they can take the steps to protect themselves and their partners."
According to CQ HealthBeat, Waters' bill is one of several recently introduced measures aimed at addressing HIV/AIDS in the U.S. Lee has introduced a bill (HR 178) that would allow community organizations to provide access to condoms and HIV prevention education in federal prisons. In addition, Waters has introduced another bill (HR 822) that would require health insurance plans to cover HIV testing under the same conditions as other routine health tests (CQ HealthBeat, 4/24). In related news, Reuters on Monday examined the Los Angeles-based Center for Health Justice, which administers sexual health education and condom distribution programs inside correctional facilities in an effort to improve treatment among HIV-positive inmates and to reduce the spread of the virus (Baertlein, Reuters, 4/23).