Legislature Approves Montgomery/Peoples Bill Requiring Distribution Of HIV/AIDS Prevention Information To Persons In Prison & Upon Release

Velmanette Montgomery

June 19, 2008

Albany, NY (June 19, 2008): The State Senate gave final approval this week to legislation (S.8508/A.8849) that requires New York correctional facilities to provide people in prison with information about the prevention of HIV, and how to obtain HIV-testing and counseling services upon release.

The legislation, sponsored by Senator Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples (D-Buffalo), now goes to Governor Paterson for approval before becoming law.

"Incarceration is a major factor in HIV-infection among communities of color, African American and Latino/as in particular,"charges Senator Montgomery, noting that New York has the highest HIV-infected inmate population in the nation. A U.S. Department of Justice report reveals that, in 2006, there were 4,000 inmates or 6.5% of the total New York State prison population (3,650 men and 350 women) living with HIV.

u Of the estimated 35,000 to 47,000 HIV-positive individuals residing in correctional facilities nationwide,
one-third are released back in the community each year.

u In New York State, more than 26,000 people are released from state prisons each year; up to 1,600 of this population may be HIV-positive.

u Of the total number of people released from New York State prisons, approximately 53% or 14,000 return to communities throughout the five boroughs of New York City; an estimated 900 of this population may be HIV-positive.

u And, of the 14,000 people re-entering Downstate communities, approximately 3,400 return to Kings County, according to the
Office of the Brooklyn District Attorney; based on the total number of people with HIV in prison (6.5%),
the estimated 200 individuals returning to Kings County may be HIV-positive.

"As men and women transition from prison life to their home communities, there should be no wait time for medical and support services," Montgomery said, noting that if her bill becomes law, all people being released from prison will receive information and referrals to community-based HIV prevention, education and counseling resources located within the communities to which they are returning.

The NYS Department of Correctional Services reports that as of January 1, 2007, the state prison population was 63,304 (60,445 were men and 2,859 were women). More than 51% of this population is African-American and 26% is Hispanic. The majority of the people in prison or 53.5% were committed from New York City, including the counties of Kings, New York, Queens, Richmond and the Bronx.

Underscoring the high rate of HIV-infection among communities of color, Assemblywoman Peoples, said, "According to a recent study by researchers at D.C. Berkeley, the high rate of African American men in incarceration may also have played a role in the rapid spread of HIV throughout African American communities." The Berkeley researchers discovered that the increase in AIDS among Black Americans closely corresponds to the rise in incarceration rates of black men over the past two decades."

Senator Montgomery added, "This epidemic is due, in part "to the fact that prison systems are havens for high-risk behaviors that make the spread of HIV prevalent, including intravenous IV drug use, tattooing, unprotected sex between men and male rape and the use of contaminated cutting instruments," added Senator Montgomery, who is also a sponsor of legislation that would require the distribution of condoms in prisons to help stem the high infection rate of HIV.

In 2000, The Correctional Association of New York released a report, titled "Health Care in New York State Prisons." Among the findings, it revealed that, "The New York State prison system has the highest percentage of HIV-positive inmates than any other state prison system in the country. Yet, site visits to 22 prisons revealed uneven care, medical staff who lacked basic knowledge of HIV/AIDS, and inmates who reported they had no idea how to get an AIDS test.

"When prisoners return to society, the health care they received while confined will affect the public health of the community at large. For example, every inmate who enters prison HIV-positive, or who becomes HIV-positive during incarceration and remains undiagnosed, returns to the community posing a threat to public health. For as many years as the disease goes unnoticed, it also goes untreated. If life-prolonging HIV medications are not administered in prison, then local communities must pay for the ex-offenders more advanced and costly medical needs upon release. On the other hand, if an inmate is tested, counseled and treated while in prison, and arrangements are made before he leaves to see a doctor in the community and continue his medical treatments, significant personal and public health costs are avoided."

HOUSING WORKS reports on Senator Montogmery’s Legislation