Routine testing for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) among state prison populations will help reduce the spread of AIDS among the general public, according to a policy brief recently released by the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis (IUPRA) at The University of Texas at Austin.
Jemel P. Aguilar, IUPRA research associate and research fellow at the Research Education Institute for Diverse Scholars at Yale University, said addressing HIV among incarcerated men and women has significant public health implications because more than 4 million people are released annually from prisons and jails across the U.S. and return to their home communities.
Aguilar said a greater number in prison populations engage in risky behaviors associated with HIV transmission, including unprotected sex with multiple partners, unregulated tattooing and injectable drug use.
"HIV is four times more prevalent in the incarcerated population than the general population," he said.
Aguilar's brief maintains that provider-initiated routine HIV screening of all men and women entering and exiting prisons provides this group with an opportunity to determine their current HIV status, develop plans to reduce these HIV-related risk behaviors, and enter into HIV medical care.
The brief concludes that knowing about one's HIV status can decrease transmission of HIV in minority communities as recently released men and women take precautions to protect themselves and others.
"Dr. Aguilar's research identifies a major gap in health policy across numerous state prison systems. The continued failure on the part of states to conduct routine prevention increases the risks for staff, prisoners and families; and it increases costs," said King Davis, professor of African and African Diaspora Studies and IUPRA director. He said the health policy gap fails to uphold a 1980 Texas district court decision in favor of inmate David Resendez Ruíz, who alleged that the conditions of his incarceration by the Texas Department of Corrections, including lack of access to health care, violated his constitutional rights.
"In those states that do not distribute condoms to prisoners, the risks and costs are greatly enhanced," Davis said. "Clearly, there must be legislation introduced to correct what appears to be a violation of provisions in the Ruíz decision in Texas as well as federal laws that guarantee the constitutional rights of persons in institutions."