July 30, 2009
In Texas, federal funds are helping recently released African-American prisoners at risk of HIV become reintegrated into society.
With the help of a $1.6 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, AIDS Services of Austin is offering ex-prisoners education, street outreach, counseling and HIV testing. The program, known as Project Fresh Start, is targeted at those who have been released within the past two years.
More than 9,000 people are expected to use the services in the next five years, said Jennifer Herrera y Nava, prevention director at AIDS Services of Austin. A part of the grant will help fund a doubling of the number of the HIV tests offered by AIDS Services of Austin.
Nationally, CDC estimates that while African Americans make up 13 percent of the population, they constitute 44 percent of those with HIV. In Austin's Travis County, African Americans make up 9 percent of the population but account for 26 percent of the HIV-positive population.
When they leave prison, many HIV-positive African Americans face the same unresolved problems they had before incarceration, such as drug or alcohol abuse, said Herrera y Nava. "It's hard for them to get employment. It's hard for them to get a place to live. So there's nothing left for them but go back to where they were using," she said.
The administrator of an Austin nonprofit organization that offers housing to those with HIV/AIDS echoes the need for the expansion of services. "It's really going to be the answers to a lot of the problems we have," says Charlotte Hale, executive director of Project Transitions.