April 18, 2002
New York Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfrieds bill would require education, outreach, harm reduction, testing, and the availability of disease barriers such as condoms. The bill seeks to curb the epidemic of HIV in New York prisons, and its spread into communities to which the incarcerated eventually return.
Prisons represent an invaluable opportunity to educate a population at great risk for HIV infection," said Catherine Hanssens, Lambda Legal AIDS Project Director. "Protecting those on the inside ultimately protects those on the outside, who inevitably suffer the consequences of inadequate prison prevention programs and the lack of access to condoms.
Studies repeatedly conclude that HIV transmission occurs within prisons. The most recent survey by the U.S. Department of Justice shows that state prisons in New York have the highest rate of HIV in the country. The extent of HIVs reach into minority and gay populations in New York, and recent statistics on the incidence of HIV among young men of color, underscore the need for a comprehensive approach to prevention.
We have 70,000 people in our state prisons, said Gottfried (D-Manhattan), the bills sponsor. Preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV in our prisons protects the people in the communities to which the inmates will return when they leave prison, and the inmates themselves.
Gottfried's bill reflects Lambda Legal's view that the Commissioner of Corrections should be required to consult with the Department of Health in identifying and selecting prevention programs that are likely to be successful in reducing infection among prisoners, and between prisoners and their contacts upon release. The bill also requires programs to be culturally sensitive, and to take into account the literacy level and needs of the targeted population.
Earlier this year, Hanssens sent a letter on behalf of physicians, HIV service providers, and other advocacy organizations urging Governor Pataki, the Correctional Services Commissioner, and Department of Health Commissioner to take action to combat the public health crisis of HIV in correctional facilities and minority communities. One of the physicians on the letter was Dr. Eran Bellin, a professor of epidemiology and social medicine who has overseen infectious disease care at Rikers Island, one of the worlds largest city jails.
If we are at all serious about addressing the alarming rates of HIV and hepatitis C infection in poor and minority communities, we must bring aggressive, proven prevention programs to high risk subgroups within these communities such as those who are incarcerated, " Dr. Bellin said in support of Gottfried's bill. "Condoms must be made available in prisons and jails not because we approve of consensual sex in prison, but because we know it happens and it is foolish to ignore proven methods to reduce HIV transmission. Condoms have been made available in jails without compromising security concerns. A harm reduction strategy is the most reasonable one for pervasive public health challenges.
Lambda Legal is the nations oldest and largest organization dedicated to the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, the transgendered, and people with HIV or AIDS. Headquartered in New York, with offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, Lambda Legal will open an office in Dallas later this year.
Contact: Catherine Hanssens, 212-809-8585 x 215
Amanda Scioscia, 212-809-8585 x 241; 888-987-1984