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Commentary & Opinion
HIV Testing Should Be Conducted Among Inmates Entering, Exiting Prisons, Editorial Says

January 31, 2007

A bill expected to be introduced soon in the House that would require inmates to be tested for HIV as they enter and exit federal prisons is a "step in the right direction," a Los Angeles Times editorial says. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), would make routine HIV testing part of the comprehensive medical exam inmates receive when they enter prisons and would provide counseling before and after the test, the editorial says. In addition, the bill would give prisoners the option to opt out of the test and would increase HIV education programs for inmates and confidentiality training for prison staff, according to the Times. Waters introduced a similar bill last year, according to the editorial. Although research indicates that male prisoners are three to five times more likely to be HIV-positive than people in the general population, most prisons conduct HIV tests only when an inmate exhibits symptoms of HIV or when "body fluids have been exchanged in detectable incidents, such as fights," according to the Times. In addition, because two-thirds of inmates in the U.S. are black or Hispanic men, the "consequences of unprotected sex in prisons have been particularly devastating for minority communities," the editorial says. The editorial adds that HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men, as well as among the female partners of former inmates, has "skyrocketed." According to the editorial, when Waters announced the bill, she "lambasted national leaders" for their "morally reprehensible" silence on HIV/AIDS and said that fear and stigma should not block efforts to reduce the spread of HIV. However, the editorial adds that after Waters introduced the similar bill last year, the American Civil Liberties Union, members of Congress and other groups "lined up against" mandatory HIV testing, "arguing that HIV-positive inmates endure violence and discrimination." According to the editorial, not testing inmates would be "deliberate and potentially life-threatening ignorance" and is not a solution to the problems of violence and discrimination. The editorial says that mandatory HIV testing in prisons is "vital not just for the health of inmates and their partners but for policymakers in understanding what goes on in the nation's disgracefully dysfunctional prisons," concluding, "Now if only the state of California would follow suit" (Los Angeles Times, 1/31).

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