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Texas Legislature Requires HIV Testing for Prisoners

Texas prisoners must now be tested for HIV before they are allowed to leave prison. Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, authored House Bill 43 which was signed on June 19, 2005, by Gov. Pick Perry, and went into effect on September 1st. The bill is based on the paranoid position that prisoners are responsible for spreading HIV to a chaste public.

Vera Johnson, executive director of the Houston AIDS Foundation, points out that Texas prison populations have a higher percentage of AIDS infected patients than the general public. Johnson insists that prisoners are contracting HIV in prison," and says It's a threat to the public health system and the community right now.

Johnson also states that infection rates are six time higher in prison than in the general public. What is not mentioned is how the figure correlates to the number of people tested in each population.

Ninety-nine percent of Texas prisoners are tested (voluntarily) for the disease but it is doubtful that ninety-nine percent of the general public is tested. Consequently, Johnson's figures and conclusions are suspect.
Johnson also points out that the percentage of prisoners with HIV is six times higher than in the public sector and that ex-prisoners make up seventeen percent of the public population with HIV. Again, no reference is made to the obvious conclusion from Johnson's figures that 83 percent of the infected public have never been to prison.

Past issues of PLN have reported how TDCJ policies and practices have actually helped to create a more deadly and resistant strain of HIV. But in its typical fashion legislators have placed the danger posed to the public squarely or the shoulders of prisoners.

Dr. Owen Murray of the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), which oversees healthcare in most Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) prisons says, that for the most part the education levels of prisoners [concerning HIV] is very high." A variety of prison programs exist to explain how to avoid contracting HIV and/or what should be done if it is contracted. Prisoners are also counseled both before and after testing regardless of the test result.

The up-side of the bill is that at least...every offender, when they leave, [knows] their status," Murray said. Twenty-four prisoners were tested upon entering prison, not leaving. They might receive treatment if infected with HIV.

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