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NY State may tighten review of inmate HIV/hepatitis care
ALBANY - A bill pending before Gov. David Paterson would direct the New York State Health Department to monitor the care of state and local prisoners with the AIDS virus or hepatitis C, a move supporters say is long overdue.
The measure would require the department to conduct annual reviews of the treatment of HIV and hepatitis C in state and local correctional facilities. The agency also would mandate necessary changes and release annual reports on its findings.
If Paterson signs the bill, monitoring state prisons would begin immediately, with oversight of local jails starting in two years.
Currently, the state Department of Correctional Services monitors the health care it provides inmates, conducts audits and assesses each prison's compliance with treatment guidelines. Local jails are governed at the local level with little state oversight.
Morgan Hook, a spokesman for the governor, said Paterson would review the bill and seek information from the agencies before making a decision.
U.S. Department of Justice statistics show that New York has had one of the highest populations of HIV-positive inmates for the past several years. About 3,100 inmates in New York are HIV positive and roughly 7,000 have hepatitis C. The state's total prison population is around 59,400.
Advocates say that although state prison officials have significantly improved care in recent years, widespread inconsistencies in the quality of treatment at the different prisons and jails still exist. They say the care of inmates with these illnesses becomes a health issue that goes beyond prison walls when these prisoners are released back into their communities.
Sen. Thomas Duane of Manhattan, the bill sponsor, said that if the bill becomes law, it would make New York a leader in addressing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.
"This is not meant to be punitive, but if there are problems, let's make sure we know in a timely manner so we can rectify it," Duane said.
Legislated oversight of such care in prisons is rare. Neither the National Commission on Correctional Health Care nor the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project could recall any other state that has legislated monitoring and oversight by a health department. In response to a lawsuit over problems in California prisons, a nonprofit organization - California Prison Health Care Receivership Corp. - was created in 2005 to monitor and oversee the medical system in that state.
Corrections department spokesman Erik Kriss said the department wouldn't comment on the measure while the governor is reviewing it. The health department also declined to comment.
Kriss noted that the rate of HIV and hepatitis infection is higher in the prison system than in the general population largely because drug offenders and users tend to have higher rates of both diseases. He said the death rate for prisoners with HIV has fallen dramatically - 95 percent - since 1996, with about 60 deaths in 2008.
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