NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Released Prisoners are Carrying Infectious Diseases Back to Communities

January 28, 2003

Jails and prisons have become giant incubators for some of the worst infectious diseases known. And as increasing numbers of prisoners are being released back into their communities, they are taking these diseases back home and spreading them among the general population.

In some cases, prison authorities don't even warn those about to be released that they are infected.

  • According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), at least 1.3 million inmates released in 1996 were infected with hepatitis C -- representing 29 percent of the 4.5 million cases of the disease nationwide.
  • Similarly, newly released inmates accounted for 35 percent of the 34,000 Americans with tuberculosis in 1996.
  • And newly released inmates accounted for 13 to 17 percent of Americans infected with HIV or AIDS, the study estimated.
  • Authorities say that most prisoners with hepatitis C did not contract the disease while in prison, but brought it in with them -- and that most prisons are wasting the opportunity to treat them while they are confined.

CDC experts are urging all prisons to vaccinate their populations to prevent hepatitis outbreaks and encouraging all states to test prisoners with a history of intravenous drug use and other risky behavior for the disease.

Source: Fox Butterfield, "Infections in Newly Released Inmates Are Rising Concern," New York Times, January 28, 2003.


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