Bill Will Alter HIV Testing Requirements For Prison Inmates

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The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved by voice vote a bill (HR 1943) that would alter HIV testing requirements for federal prison inmates, CQ Today reports. Current federal law and Bureau of Prisons regulations require inmates sentenced to six months or more in prison to receive an HIV test if it is determined that they are at risk for the virus. The new bill is sponsored by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) (Itkowitz, CQ Today, 7/25) .

Under the bill, HIV tests would be required for inmates entering and leaving prison. Inmates would be allowed to opt out of HIV testing unless they were exposed to an HIV risk, such as pregnancy or a sexual encounter, in prison. In these cases, prisoners would be required to be tested, CongressDaily reports (Posner, CongressDaily, 7/26). The bill would allow prisoners to request HIV testing once annually and mandate confidential counseling for inmates prior to and after testing, CQ Today reports.

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In addition, the measure would require the Prisons Bureau to report to Congress its procedures for testing, treating and preventing hepatitis and other infections transmitted sexually or through injection drug use. The bureau also would be required to provide legislators with statistics on HIV test results.

Waters cited a Justice Department report that found the number of confirmed AIDS cases in prisons is three times higher than the general population. However, she said actual HIV rates in prisons are "unknown because prison officials do not consistently test prisoners" for the virus. "There is little knowledge about the lifestyles of those who enter our nation's prisons, and there is usually no official acknowledgement that sexual activity -- whether consensual or otherwise -- is taking place in prisons," she said.

Inmates scheduled for release would receive counseling, treatment referrals and a month's supply of any "medically necessary medications" they already were taking, according to the bill. Waters said that if prison inmates are "exposed to HIV in prison and then complete their sentences and return to society without knowing their HIV status, they could infect their spouse or other persons in their community" (CQ Today, 7/26). The bill was approved without amendments and sent to the full House (CongressDaily, 7/26).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report, search the archives. The Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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