D.C.’s Barry Wants Inmates Tested for HIV

Published August 31, 2009

Former Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, now a member of the City Council, wants all inmates in the city jail tested for HIV/AIDS.

In a bill he proposed recently, Barry urges that authorities collect blood from inmates, including those convicted of a sex crime, as they enter the D.C. Jail.

Following the test, prisoners would be provided counseling, under the bill, which has been stalled in committee since July.

"Lives are being lost, breadwinners are being lost, family members are being lost," a Barry spokesman told The Washington Post. "We need to be doing all that we can in this serious situation."

Barry notes that the District of Columbia has an “alarming HIV/AIDS rate, reminding that at least 3 percent of the city’s residents – some 15,000 people – are living with the virus, the highest known rate in the nation, the Post reports.

What’s even more alarming, many experts say, is the number of D.C. residents who don’t even know they have HIV/AIDS. Recent studies have shown that nearly a third of those tested for HIV are inmates at the D.C. Jail.

"If you look at how the epidemic is spreading, there is a high prevalence [of the virus] in the jail population," D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), one of the bill's co-sponsors, told the Post. "People are bringing it back to our community, which really is continuing to spread the virus."

Nationally, 21 states test inmates for HIV when they first arrive. Still, most of those only do so with inmates’ consent or upon court order, according to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

“Since 2006, when the voluntary HIV testing program was launched, 99 percent, or more than 27,000, inmates have opted to take the test.” the Post writes.

Some warn that Barry’s plan could actually deter inmates from participating in voluntary testing.

"Our fear is that if you put in place a mandatory program, you not only have very little to gain but you may actually be undermining a good program that we already have in place," said Walter Smith, executive director of D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, a public policy organization that supports HIV testing but opposes the bill.

Both D.C. Corrections Director Devon Brown and HIV/AIDS Administration Director Shannon Hader said they oppose mandatory testing.

Written by <P>By BET.com Staff</P>

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