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Texas Prison Policy to Say Incoming Inmates "Shall Be Tested" for HIV Unless They Refuse; State Senator Seeks Mandatory Entry Tests

August 24, 2006

The Texas prison system has proposed a change to its HIV testing policy from saying new inmates "should be tested" upon entering prison to saying they "shall be tested" unless they refuse the test, the Austin American-Statesman reports. The new policy is scheduled to take effect as early as next week, according to the American-Statesman. Meanwhile, state Sen. Rodney Ellis (D) on Aug. 2 asked Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) to rule whether current state law allows mandatory HIV testing for prisoners upon entry. Ellis -- who with state Rep. Yvonne Davis (D) sponsored legislation approved last year that requires inmates to be tested for HIV before departing prison -- said if Abbott ruled that current law does not allow mandated entry tests, he would sponsor a bill that would include such a requirement. "It's a public safety issue," Ellis said, adding, "We're very concerned about the rapidly increasing infection rates." According to the American-Statesman, about 80 percent of inmates have agreed to take an HIV test upon entering prison since the state began its testing program, and prison system statistics show more than 38,700 inmates received HIV tests in 2005, 372 of whom tested HIV-positive. Texas law mandates that results of HIV tests are confidential, and that HIV-positive inmates are not separated from HIV-negative inmates. Under current regulations, incoming inmates are tested for syphilis and tuberculosis. Advocates for mandatory HIV testing upon entry into the prison system say it would help prison officials properly treat HIV-positive people, would provide more accurate data on the spread of the disease and could help officials estimate how many people are becoming HIV-positive in prison. July statistics show that of 154,000 prisoners in Texas, 2,627 are HIV-positive (Ward, Austin American-Statesman, 8/23).

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