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AIDS #1 Killer in FL DOC

According to Florida corrections officials, AIDS is the leading cause of death in Florida prisons and many prisoners are released without knowing if they are infected. Half of the people who die in Florida prisons die from AIDS. Prison officials estimate about 8 percent of that state's 50,000 prisoners are infected with HIV, the virus which leads to AIDS. That is 20 times higher than the infection rate in the general population outside of prisons.

Dr. Charles Mathews, assistant state corrections secretary for medical services, told the St. Petersburg Times: "They go back home, and when they go back there they spread the disease. This is not really a prison problem. It's a public health problem." The Florida DOC does not test prisoners for HIV/AIDS unless they volunteer to be tested. Because many don't take the test no one knows for sure how many are infected or how often prisoners infect each other. Each of the 3,000 prisoners entering the Florida DOC each month are tested for syphilis, gonorrhea and tuberculosis, but not HIV/AIDS.

Florida state law prohibits compulsory AIDS/HIV testing. DOC Secretary Harry Singletary said he would not ask the legislature to modify the law because of money. Singletary said testing is more costly than it sounds because new tests will turn up new HIV cases. Infected prisoners have a right to treatment and AIDS treatment is expensive, last year it cost the DOC $7.8 million.

Florida prisoners receive a booklet about AIDS which tells them to use latex condoms and limit the number of sexual partners that they have. But sex is illegal in prison so condoms are not allowed. Recognizing that sex goes on in prison a number of groups and individuals favor giving prisoners condoms. Among them: the Florida Governor's Red Ribbon Panel on AIDS and Mathews, the DOC's top health official.

Source: Palm Beach Post, May 23, 1994

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