October 2, 2008
At a Shelby County Commission meeting on Wednesday, longtime activist Novella Smith Arnold urged the county Sheriff's Office to allow jail inmates access to condoms and require they be tested for HIV.
"AIDS is still alive and well," Arnold told the commission's law enforcement committee. "It's still coming out of the jail to the black community, and our black women are suffering from this virus, and they're dying." Condoms protect inmates who engage in consensual sex, as well as their loved ones once they are released from jail, she said.
According to data from the Sheriff's Office, of the 31,645 inmates booked in the county jail this year, 10,495 volunteered to be tested for HIV. Of these inmates, 215 -- 2.04 percent -- were positive. For men, 26 percent agreed to be tested; 1.86 percent were infected. For women, 62 percent volunteered to be tested; 2.3 percent were positive for the virus.
"It's not exactly pandemic, but [the inmates] do bring [HIV/AIDS]," said Harvey Kennedy, chief administration officer for Sheriff Mark Luttrell.
Yvonne Madlock, director of the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department, said HIV prevalence in jails and prisons tends to be higher than the general population because inmates typically engage in riskier behaviors both in and out of prison.
Rather than distribute condoms, Madlock said efforts to control the spread of HIV are best focused on increased testing and improved care for HIV/AIDS patients.