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Study Reveals High Rates of Sexually-Transmitted Diseases at Maricopa County, Arizona Jails

A joint study by the Arizona Arrestee Reporting Information Network and Arizona State University’s Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety, released in June 2011, found high rates of sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) among prisoners in Maricopa County’s jail system. Approximately 130,000 people are booked into the county’s jails each year, with an average incarceration period of less than 30 days.

The first anomaly was noticed when the Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety conducted a federally-funded study that tested women under 35 for diseases that could affect fertility. The study noted elevated STD rates among incarcerated women for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Believing that incarcerated men might also have high rates of infection, the researchers expanded the study to include all prisoners regardless of age or gender.

The expanded study revealed gonorrhea infection rates of 5% and chlamydia infection rates of 10% among female prisoners – about 80.6 and 14.5 times higher than the average in the general population, respectively. For male prisoners, the gonorrhea infection rate was 4.6% and the chlamydia infection rate was 6.8% (54.4 and 23.7 times greater than in the general population, respectively).

Public health care officials hope the study will be a springboard for additional research into STD rates at other county jails. The main thing holding back such studies is the high cost of STD testing. The federal grant-funded tests in the study cost about $18 per prisoner, while tests without grant funding run up to $95. Maricopa County health care officials are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine the real value of STD testing by developing a cost-benefit analysis.

Of course, that analysis should take into account the fact that releasing infected prisoners without testing and treatment will result in the spread of STDs among the general population, which would result in additional costs. Often that money will come from government health services, since many former prisoners and their families have low incomes and are dependent on public health care. Therefore, treating STD-infected prisoners while they are incarcerated, where their compliance with taking the antibiotics necessary to cure STDs can be closely monitored, is more cost effective than waiting until after they are released to treat them in the community.

“Whether they’re outside or in here, if you look at it from a public money standpoint, it’s still tax dollars,” said Dr. Jeffrey Alvarez, medical director of Maricopa County’s Correctional Health Services. “It’s hard to help taxpayers understand we are paying for this. Even if you don’t think of the good that we’re doing for people, it’s still cheaper for you to take care of this now.”

According to the study, “Left untreated, these STDs can lead to serious urethral or cervical infections, infections in other parts of the body, infertility, and neonatal transference.” Which is another good argument for STD testing and treatment for prisoners.

Sources: Arizona Republic,

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