A study conducted by the Correctional Association (CA) of New York revealed that the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) is drastically deficient when it comes to identifying prisoners infected with HIV and the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). Moreover, even for infected prisoners who have been identified treatment offered varies greatly from unit to unit.
Under initiatives driven by the NYS Medicaid Redesign Team and the federal Affordable Health Care Act the Department of Health (DOH) has been mandated by law to improve healthcare inside state prisons and to assist with the integration of infected prisoners into community healthcare systems when they are released.
A primary problem affecting the DOCCS has been their inability to identify a majority of its prisoners infected with HIV and HCV. It is estimated that in 2012 over 3,000 HIV infected prisoners lived in state prisons yet the DOCC had only identified 1,300. It is also estimated that 75 percent of prisoners with HCV remain unidentified.
Making matters worse, over the past three years funding for staffing has been reduced by 16 percent, funding for medical resources has been cut by 17 percent and the budget for medication was cut by 6.3 percent.
Prisoners receiving treatment for HIV report a great disparity in the level of care from unit to unit. On some units the level of care is more than adequate and prisoners have few complaints. On other units treatment is sporadic.
Women especially are affected adversely in the variability of quality of care. A 2012 estimate by the CA posited that as many as 240 female prisoners, roughly 10 percent, were infected with HIV. Yet only 97 women were actually identified within the system. They also concluded that only 53 percent of the women infected with HCV have been identified.
Extensive assistance for prisoners is provided by the Criminal Justice Initiative (CJI) yet not all prisoners are benefitting from these services. CJI provides peer education training, prevention education, counseling and testing, support services for infected and affected prisoners, and transitional planning for prisoners being released. Yet, because of the prevailing inefficiency of the DOCCS many of the identified infected prisoners are not in a prison that offers CJI counseling and services. Many more are deprived of transitional assistance upon their release.
The report put forward fifteen recommendations for how the DOCCS could improve the way it currently handles disease control in prison. It also included several suggestions for the NYS Department of Health and the AIDS Institute. Possibly the most significant suggestion was to encourage the DOCCS to allow prisoners access to condoms as a harm prevention measure.
Source: Correctional Association of NY 2013 Summary of HIV and Hepatitis C Care in NYS Prisons
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