NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 23, 2004

Some cash-strapped jails and prisons have backed away from testing inmates for infectious diseases for fear that they might require expensive treatment. Consequently, transmission rates of tuberculosis (TB), HIV, hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are skyrocketing among prisoners, says the New York Times.

A Justice Department report entitled "The Health Status of Soon-to-Be Released Inmates" takes a look at the health conditions in prisons:

  • The rate of transmission for STDs behind bars is about 10 times that in the outside world.
  • In a given year, 17 percent of people with AIDS, 35 percent of those with TB and almost a third of those with hepatitis C pass through the corrections system.
  • U.S. prisons release nearly 12 million inmates a year -- mostly from city and county jails -- many of whom spend months trying to re-enroll in Medicaid before receiving medical care.

The report recommends testing, treating and counseling inmates to prevent the spread of such infectious diseases before paroled inmates burden the public health system upon their release.

Source: Brent Staples, "Treat the Epidemic Behind Bars Before It Hits the Streets," New York Times, June 22, 2004, based upon, Report to Congress, "The Health Status of Soon-to-Be Released Inmates," National Commission on Correctional Health Care, March 2002.

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