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Department of Corrections Implements Automatic HIV Testing for Inmates

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

(Washington, DC) District of Columbia Department of Corrections Director Devon Brown reports that the Department of Corrections (DOC) has positioned itself to assume a lead role in the District-wide initiative to increase HIV testing among its adult residents and thereby identify and treat those who have been found carrying the illness.

The District reportedly has one of the highest HIV rates in the country. To address this crisis, the DOC, in partnership with the Department of Health’s (DOH) Administration for HIV Policy and Programs (AHPP), has integrated an automatic HIV testing program into its routine medical intake procedures at the Central Detention Facility (DC Jail), which serves as the District’s primary correctional institution for pretrial detainees and sentenced misdemeanants. Inmates entering the complex are screened for the virus by swabbing around the gums at intake and before they are released to the community, thus helping to determine the prevalence of HIV and to provide appropriate services based on testing results. Prior to implementing the program as a 30-day pilot last month, inmates were screened for HIV on a voluntary basis.

“The HIV testing program at the DC Jail supports Mayor Anthony Williams’ emphasis on building safe and healthy neighborhoods and recognizes the role of our correctional system in this effort,” said Corrections Director Devon Brown. “Automatic HIV testing reflects the city’s proactive acknowledgement that identifying and treating those with HIV is not only a public health issue; it is a public safety issue,” Director Brown continued. “Many men and women are incarcerated with a host of communicable and contagious illnesses such as tuberculosis, venereal disease, and HIV. If they are unaware that they possess these disorders or the illnesses are not treated before they return to the community, a serious, highly negative, public impact is created. The Department hopes that testing at both the front and back ends of incarceration will reduce the transmission of HIV infection and improve health accountability and responsibility. These measures will ultimately improve the viability of our communities,” Brown concluded.

Statistics show that more than one-fourth of all individuals with HIV in this country pass through correctional systems each year. DOC’s testing program follows the release of two significant studies with varying findings on the HIV/AIDS epidemic relative to correctional populations. A recent study published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC,  April 2006) examining men in Georgia’s prison system yielded findings providing a broadened perspective on research conducted by the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkley (July 2005), which demonstrated a strong positive correlation between increases in incarceration rates occurring among men, particularly African Americans, and corresponding increases in the incidence of new AIDS infection among women. In a more recent discovery, CDC found that the overwhelming majority of HIV-positive men come into the correctional system already infected whereas the University of California research reported that the rise in black AIDS patients among black females in particular is directly linked to the escalating number of incarcerated black men.

The findings of DOC’s 30-day pilot HIV testing program appear to support data generated by the CDC inasmuch as less than one percent of those tested were newly identified as having HIV infection at the time of their incarceration. ‘Irrespective of the results, those tested are provided with important information that promote healthy living and a more constructive lifestyle,” said Henry Lesansky, PhD., Department of Corrections Health Services Administrator. “Being aware of one’s HIV status is an exceedingly critical aspect of protecting yourself as well as others,” he added.

Most correctional systems do not test inmates for HIV unless they have been convicted of a sex-related crime. Automatic HIV testing is fundamental to the District’s objective to provide a community-oriented healthcare program for those who are incarcerated. The Department of Corrections will be in a unique position to become a demonstration site as the District is among the first jurisdictions nationally to conduct automatic HIV testing at its detention center.

The Department of Corrections processes approximately 20,000 individuals a year.