September 15, 2009
Gov. David Paterson is considering a bill that would require the New York State Health Department to monitor the care of state and local prisoners with HIV or hepatitis C. Under the measure, the department would be responsible for conducting annual treatment reviews, mandating necessary changes, and releasing annual reports on its findings.
The state Department of Correctional Services is currently responsible for overseeing the health care it provides inmates. Jails are governed at the local level with limited state involvement.
Of New York's total prison population of roughly 59,400, 3,100 inmates are HIV-positive and 7,000 or so have hepatitis C, US Department of Justice data show. Advocates say that although prison health care has improved in recent years, inconsistencies among various prisons and jails remain. The issue of inmates with HIV and hepatitis C becomes a public health concern when the former prisoners return to their communities, supporters note.
If Paterson signs the bill, monitoring of state prison care would begin immediately, and oversight of local jails would start in two years. The governor will review the legislation and seek information from the agencies before making a decision, said his spokesperson, Morgan Hook.
If the bill becomes law, New York would become a leader in addressing HIV and hepatitis C in the correctional system, said Sen. Thomas Duane (Manhattan), who sponsored the measure. Neither the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project nor the National Commission on Correctional Health could recall any other state that has legislated prison monitoring and oversight by a health department.