Commentary & Opinion
Prison System "Gaping Hole in Public Health Network" for Treating People With Infectious Diseases, Opinion Piece Says
June 22, 2004
The U.S. prison system is a "gaping hole in the public health network" for treating people with infectious diseases, New York Times editorial board member Brent Staples writes in a Times "Editorial Observer" piece. "[H]eavyweight" infectious diseases -- including HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis C -- have become "endemic behind bars today," according to Staples. The prison system has "clearly become a major conduit" for infectious diseases, as the rate of sexually transmitted disease transmission in prisons is about 10 times greater than outside the system, Staples says. In "any given year," about 17% of people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, 35% of people with TB and almost 33% of people with hepatitis C pass through the prison system, Staples says. In addition, the diseases that "incubate" in prisons "don't just stay there" but "rus[h] back to the general population" with the almost 12 million inmates who are released from prison annually, he says. Staples says that a "rigorous" testing, treatment and counseling program could curb the spread of infectious diseases and inform inmates about infections before they "reached the crisis stage and became prohibitively expensive to handle." The United States "would experience less infectious disease -- which means fewer deaths and less strain on the health system -- if the public health apparatus were fully extended into the jails and prisons," Staples concludes (Staples, New York Times, 6/22).
This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.