22,000 HIV-Positive Inmates a Factor in Prison Health Care Costs

The Justice Department reported that more than 22,000 HIV-positive prisoners are in state and federal lockups. In 2007, the most recent year tabulated, 130 prisoners in state and federal facilities died from AIDS-related causes. (The full report is online.)

It might be worth a look to see how much your state spends on health care associated with this remarkable number of inmates with HIV.

The Justice Department said just three states account for 46 percent of all of the HIV cases in state prisons:

"Florida (3,626), New York (3,500) and Texas (2,450) reported the largest number of HIV/AIDS cases. While these three states account for 24 percent of the total state custody population, together they account for 46 percent of HIV/AIDS cases in state prison. New York continues to report large decreases (down 450) in the number of HIV/AIDS cases. Notable increases between 2007 and 2008 were in California (up 246), Missouri (up 169) and Florida (up 166).

"Between 1995 and 2006 the number of state inmates who died from AIDS-related causes decreased 85 percent from 1,010 to 155. Continuing the downward trend, 120 state inmates died from AIDS-related causes in 2007. Among federal inmates, 13 died from AIDS-related causes in 2008, up from 10 in 2007."

Nearly half the states test every inmate. The rest might have more cases and not know it.

"During 2008, a total of 24 states reported testing all inmates for HIV at admission or sometime during custody. Among these 24 states, 23 tested at admission, five tested while in custody, and six tested upon release. Fifty states and the federal system tested inmates if they had HIV-related symptoms or if they requested an HIV test. Forty-two states and the federal system tested inmates after they were involved in an incident in which an inmate was exposed to a possible HIV transmission, and 18 states and the federal system tested inmates who belonged to specific high-risk groups."

Stateline.org pointed out 10 years ago that as prison sentences get longer, the number of older inmates with serious illnesses such as AIDS increases. Inmates have a right to health care, so not treating them, no matter how ill they are, is no option:

  • "State prison populations doubled from 577,672 in 1988 to 1,158,958 in 1998, according to the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics. Women accounted for 6.4 percent of all prisoners nationwide in 1998, up from 4.1 percent in 1980 and 5.7 percent in 1990.
  • "The number of inmates 55 and older more than doubled from 1981 to 1990, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. ...
  • "More and more inmates have chronic and terminal illnesses, such as HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and Hepatitis B and C. ..."

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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