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Survival in the "Free World"

Los Angeles Task Force Helps Inmates with HIV/AIDS

February 2000

Incarcerated people and people recently released from prison who have HIV/AIDS can get help accessing many community services from the Los Angeles-based HIV Incarcerated Task Force.

The task force is comprised of formerly incarcerated people with HIV/AIDS, representatives from community-based service organizations, academia, and corrections professionals who are concerned with the HIV/AIDS epidemic among incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people.

The Need for Services

According to program director Eddie Ortiz, who himself was an inmate on and off for five years, says it is difficult for people living with HIV/AIDS in prison to receive good health care and to have their special housing and nutrition needs met. Once paroled, people also find it difficult to make smooth transitions and to adjust to living back in society.

According to Ortiz, if an inmate hopes to make it in the free world they must get help finding transitional housing, drug treatment options, job information and health-care referral information.

"If they don't get help with housing and drug treatment, they go right back to their dope connection and eventually back to being incarcerated," says Ortiz.

The Los Angeles HIV Incarcerated Task Force, which is funded by the Office of AIDS Programs and Policy, has been around for about eight years. When the task force started, it identified 52 issues they wanted to address. Today they claim that they have been successful in resolving all but about six of these issues. Most recently, the task force has begun to make significant progress in bringing issues regarding treating and caring for incarcerated and post-incarcerated people with HIV/AIDS to the attention of policy makers.

Among the major accomplishments of the task force is the development of an information and referral hotline service for incarcerated and post-incarcerated people living and being paroled in Los Angeles County. The hotline provides callers with advocacy, information, referrals, resources and training to help them get all the assistance they need to manage living with HIV while in prison; and to help them make a smoother transition back into society once they are released.

Making Improvements

According to Ortiz, the task force was also instrumental in forming an ad hoc committee which evaluated the services in the L.A. County Jail system being offered to inmates with HIV/AIDS.

The committee identified a need for more effective medical care and treatment, HIV/AIDS testing and counseling, and HIV/AIDS education and risk-reduction training within the jail system. The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department Internal Task Force on HIV issues was then formed. As a result, they have made an improvement in the level of care and treatment being received by inmates with HIV/AIDS in the L.A. county jail system.

The task force has also developed an annual Red Cross training for inmates in the California Institution for Men-East Facility (CIM-East) in Chino, Calif. The training teaches inmates about HIV and alternative therapies, how to file for SSI and unemployment, and how to find traditional housing. They also conduct job interview training. The task force hopes to supplement this training with additional pre-release training this year.

Issues Still at Hand

Some areas on which the task force is still working include getting a quarterly newsletter called "Inside and Out" approved for distribution by case managers in the jails and prisons. The newsletter features success stories from inmates who have made the transition to the outside world, articles on housing, drug treatment options and information on health and nutrition.

The task force also recognizes the importance of condom availability. Services such as a brochure about safe sex and HIV testing, along with condoms, could cut down on the HIV transmission that occurs in prisons. The idea of condom distribution has met resistance from Sheriff's Department officials because they fear condom availability would be promoting sex in prison.

Separate nutrition and medical programs as well as separate housing for inmates with HIV/AIDS are among the issues still being addressed by the task force.

A Transition for the Task Force

In an effort to be closer and more accessible to the people they serve, the task force recently moved to AIDS Project Los Angeles in Hollywood. The office is located in Room 117, on the first floor next to the Medical Transportation office and near the Necessities of Life Program.

Since its move to APLA, Eddie Ortiz reports that calls to the hotline have increased. He also expects better attendance at the support groups he has organized.

For more information about the HIV Incarcerated Task Force and its services, call the hotline toll-free at (888) 372-0888, or (323) 856-0118 and (323) 856-0120.

This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).

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This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.
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