July 21, 2011
Maricopa County inmates are 50 percent to 80 percent more likely to have gonorrhea than the general population, an Arizona State University (ASU) study suggests.
Nearly 30 percent of inmates have been diagnosed with a mental illness, and more than 30 percent tested positive for marijuana or methamphetamine, according to the most recent in a series of studies by ASU's Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety (CVPCS).
Each year, 130,000 people are booked into Maricopa County jails, with average stays of less than a month and many only 48 hours. Many inmates are from the same populations served by Arizona's Medicaid program, said Dr. Jeff Alvarez, medical director of the county's Correctional Health Services.
"Whether they're outside or in here, if you look at it from a public-money standpoint, it's still tax dollars," Alvarez said. "Even if you don't think of the good we're doing for people, it's still cheaper for you to take care of this now."
Inmates "are at extremely high risk for problem behavior," said Charles Katz, CVPCS's director. "By focusing on this population, it affords us the opportunity to be engaged in intervention activities."
A federally funded program to test female inmates under 35 for STDs first picked up the higher-than-normal rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea. The survey ultimately expanded to include volunteer inmates of all ages and both sexes.
A major barrier to STD screening is the per-test cost -- about $18 through the grant-funded program, but up to $95 outside it. County health officials are working with CDC to conduct a cost-benefits analysis of the program.
On July 20, a state law took effect allowing the largest counties, including Maricopa, to pay the same rates as Medicaid for inmate care delivered by hospitals operating outside of existing contracts.