.Prison Issues

 

AIDS Activists Throw Condoms at State Prison
Times Union .[ Albany, NY ] .December 18, 2002 ::by Brendan Lyons

In Coxsackie, N.Y., Tuesday, several AIDS activists marched
to the gates of Coxsackie Correctional Facility and dropped 2,000
condoms at the feet of corrections officers. New York state prohibits inmates
from having condoms, and officials say sex between inmates is illegal.
But members of ACT UP-NY claim state officials are ignoring the reality
of inmates having sex, and some prisoners are becoming infected with HIV
behind bars. "The New York state prison system is a factory
for thousands of new HIV infections each year,"
said Ken Bing,
an ACT UP/NY member. "When prisoners are released, those
new HIV infections become a public health crisis for their

home communities. Prisons are pouring a huge HIV burden out
into New York state, which has a horrific human cost as well
as a financial cost to the state,"
Bing said.


Capital News 9 Report [ Albany, NY ]
by Health Team Reporter Erin O'Hearn
12 / 18 / 2002

Condoms in prisons
The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power is asking prisons to distribute condoms to inmates. Why is prevention in prisons important? After all, many people may find it hard to feel sympathy for convicted criminals. But research has shown that inmates health will inevitably have an impact on general public.

Inmates are not allowed to have condoms because they are considered contraband. That is a problem when it comes to the spread of HIV.

Stevens said, "State Commissioner Gord, he's the State Commissioner of DOCS, he says that condoms are illegal yet we have a letter from him saying prevention in his prisons is important. Yet it flies in the face of all logic that he's saying prevention is important and the condom is a very simple tool to provide that."

Dave Howard knows a lot about the prison health care system. After all he spent 16 years of his life there. He is now an educator for the AIDS Council of Northeastern New York. But during his time in prison, Howard saw more and more people become infected with HIV, Tuberculosis and Hepatitis C. He considers himself lucky he does not have any of these diseases today.

Howard said, "At this point all I can say that its by God's grace of mercy that I've been spared because I've done everything everyone else is doing."

The rate of HIV in prison is five times higher than outside those walls. Non-profit groups like ACT UP that advocate better health care in prison, claim the continued spread of HIV can be slowed down.

Gellman said, "The spread of HIV and Hepatitis C in New York State prisons could be dealt with and addressed with the distribution of condoms. Inmates do have sex, it doesn't matter that it's illegal. It's still a public health crisis if they have unprotected sex."

Gellman said, "When they return to their communities which are often poor, working class communities and they bring an enormous HIV burden with them."

Protected sex is one deterrent, but what about the spread of disease through intravenous drug use?

Stevens said, "It's a part of harm reduction and that's a quantum leap and that's something we have to fight also. But right now a condom is a fight in that direction, but harm reduction is going to take some time and some education.


ACT UP Press Release

Date: December 17, 2002
Contact: (917) 517-3627

AIDS ACTIVISTS CONFRONT WARDEN WITH CONDOMS AT NY STATE PRISON
Despite wildfire spread of HIV, NYS Dept. of Corrections prohibits inmates from using condoms

Coxsackie, NY -- AIDS activists today attempted to deliver 2000 condoms to the medical officer at Coxsackie Correctional Facility. Ten members of ACT UP/NY, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, brought the condoms to prison gates, but were stopped by prison guards. Activists deposited the condoms at guard's feet, chanting "Stop breeding AIDS and HEP C in New York prisons!" Prison guards ultimately agreed to bring the condoms to the watch commander, but it remains illegal for prisoners to receive them.

Activists also delivered a letter to Coxsackie Supt. Filion outlining demands for a coherent HIV prevention program in NYS prisons.

Inmates in the New York state prison system are prohibited from obtaining or possessing condoms, except during conjugal visits. NYS Corrections Commissioner Glenn Goord has alternately denied that sex occurs among inmates or between inmates and guards; and claimed that sex between inmates, since it is illegal, should not be addressed as a health issue by prison staff. The Department of Correctional Services defines condoms as "contraband."

"Condoms are a fundamental component of every public health strategy, and every HIV prevention program. The Department of Health practically begs people to use them," said ACT UP member Mel Stevens. "Denying prisoners access to condoms -- and worse, making it illegal to possess condoms -- basically guarantees that prisoners will become HIV-infected."

HIV infection rates in New York State prisons are estimated at 9 -- 10% for male inmates, and 20 -- 25% for female inmates -- while HIV rates in the general population of New York State are approximately 2 -3 %.

Although the rate of new infections (seroconversions) in prison is hard to track, seroconversions among inmates are clearly and dramatically on the rise. The percentage of inmates entering the prison system with existing HIV infections has decreased over the last decade, while the percentage of inmates with HIV in the prison system has increased markedly, according to Justice Department and NYS Department of Health researchers -- meaning that many prisoners are contracting HIV while in custody.

"The New York State prison system is a factory for thousands of new HIV infections each year," said Ken Bing of ACT UP-NY. "When prisoners are released, those new HIV infections become a public health crisis for their home communities. Prisons are pouring a huge HIV burden out into New York State, which has a horrific human cost as well as a financial cost to the state."

Following their prison visit, activists proceeded to the Albany office of NY State Health Commissioner Antonia Novello, demanding that Dr. Novello address the public health crisis in the New York State Prison system. Vastly substandard health care also fuels the HIV and Hepatitis C prison epidemics.

"If Commissioner Goord really believes that his prisons are so magical that inmates don't have sex -- then he's incompetent to deal with the health of inmates in his custody," said AIDS activist Anna Lynne. "It's time for the New York State DOH to step in -- there's no room for confusion about whether there should be condoms and HIV care in prisons. Dr. Novello must take responsibility for the HIV disaster area that is the New York State prison system."


Letter To Superintend Filion that accompanied 1,000 condoms for the General Inmate Population;
letter was also cc: to Glenn Goord, Commissioner of New York Dept. of Corrections, Lester Wright,
Chief Medical NYDOCS; and personally handed to Antonia Novello, after a Smallpox Seminar for
DOH employees, where two individuals asked questions on why Smallpox was more important
than DOH providing AIDS-HIV-HEPC healthcare, education, and prevention in NYS Prisons.

 

Superintendent: _________________ 17 December 2002

We are the NO Time To Lose Committeee of ACT UP. We work on Prison Inmate Healthcare in New York State. Our visit today is intended as a measure to save lives of New Yorkers inside prison. We are concerned about the high incidence cases of HIV/AIDS and HEPC in 70 prisons in the NYSDOCS system. According to a recent U.S. Department of Justice Report, NYSDOCS leads the country in AIDS and HEPC rates. As of March 2002, there were 67,114 inmates under custody. Men constitute 95% of prisoners. Blacks and Hispanics account for approximately 80% of the inmate population. 65% of state inmates come from and will return to New York City. 14% of incoming female prisoners and 5% of incoming males are infected with HIV; 23% of incoming female inmates and 14% of incoming males have hepatitis C. 75% of inmates are self-reported substance abusers inside NYSDOCS. The average time served in New York State correctional facilities is 43 months.

We understand that Coxsackie has a capacity of 1074 inmates and it houses mostly younger inmates. With approximately 75% of the inmates are under the age of 24 and about 45% are between 16 and 21, and right now that is the leading group of new HIV infections. Teens represent 2 of every 4 new HIV infections. Coxsackie has a Regional Medic Unit, run by the Correctional Medical Services (CMS), a private health care concern. a maximum-security health facility that served approximately 60 inmates from prisons in the hub. You also have your own NYSDOCS Medical Service to the general inmate population. It is reported that you are largely responsible for the development of the hospice program in 1996. We know that you showed care in this effort. We understand that your Medical Director has 22 years on the job and is not board-certified. He is trained as a general practitioner and has a full-time practice in Town, along with his Coxsackie duties. He still maintains a part-time practice on the outside.

Your RMU, SHU and keeplock house between 300 and 400 inmates. Not only are inmates cut off from the outside world by the Special Housing Unit (SHU) by the thick metal doors with a small Plexiglas window, but they are also cut off from education on HIV prevention and medical developments in HIV developments in research. Many of the prisoners there are teenagers; Three to four week wait to see the doctor, time during which medical conditions worsen and patients continue to suffer. Presence of CO's in the examination rooms, which inmates said makes them feel self-conscious and hinders open communication. Coxsackie breaches confidentiality and leaves open the possibility of inaccurate translation in potentially life-threatening situations with non-bilingual medical and staff employees. SHU inmates are housed in more restrictive conditions with a cellmate 24 hours a day. 23-hour lockup, solitary confinement or double-celling. Prisons within Prison addressing crime inside prison. The effects of being confined in a prison cell with another man 24 hours a day have yet to be studied, but the increases in disruptive behavior and self-harm are not a good sign. CO's treat many behaviors as a disciplinary problem rather than a clinical problem. Approximately 80% of state inmates are self-reported substance abusers. Primarily due to high-risk behavior prior to incarceration and inadequate health care in the community, inmates have higher rates of infectious disease and chronic illness than non-inmates. The U.S. Department of Justice shows that New York correctional facilities house more HIV-infected inmates than any correctional system in the country. Recently, DOCS TODAY newsletter is quoted, "While the Department has witnessed major declines in HIV infection, Active TB cases across the system in recent years, staff and inmates must continue to observe proper precautions to avoid these and other communicable diseases."

Therefore, we are providing you with 1,000 condoms to distribute to the inmate population to protect themselves and others from HIV transmission. Condoms are recommended in the science of HIV prevention and care. We urge you to take the initiative with your institution and stop the denial about AIDS. Please set up a distribution program that is non-discrimitory and accessible. In 2000 ­ 2001, the operating budget for the state prison system was $2.25 billion. We won't send you a bill for the condoms, if they are distributed to the inmate population.

We have attached some abstracts from the recent Conference of the 26th annual meeting of the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) held October 19-23, 2002 in Nashville, as reported in HEPP Report by Co-Chief Editor Joseph Bick. The abstracts back up our demand that a comprehensive plan to stop HIV, AIDS and HEPC inside and outside NYSDOCS starts with condom distribution. We appreciate your understanding in recognizing that prison is punishment and that punishment inside prison is not the answer.

No Time To Lose,

ACT UP!

cc: Glenn S. Goord, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Correctional Services.
Lester Wright, MD Associate Commissioner; Senior Advisor HEPP Report up-to-moment information on HIV and Hepatitis treatment efficient approaches.

ABSTRACT FOUNDATION ON AIDS PREVENTION AND EDUCATION

IDSA abstract #662: This San Francisco study found a high incidence of proctitis in a cohort of men who have sex with men. Most cases were due to syphilis, NG, CT, and /or HSV. As active proctitis is known to increase the risk for acquisition of HIV, it should be promptly diagnoses and treated.

IDSA abstract #655: This study from Seattle found that 33% asymptomatic undergraduate men were culture positive for human papillomavirus (HPC)

NCCHC: Clark, Sylia, and Gaylord presented a one-year report on the L.A. County jail distribution program. This intuition which provides condoms and risk reduction education to self-identified Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered inmates, has been accepted by staff and inmates and lead to no disciplinary issues.

IDSA abstract #7893: The HCV seroprevalence among incoming inmates to the NYS prison system in 2000-2001 was 23% among women and 13.4% among men. The rate of HIV co-infection was 5.6% in women and 2.3% in men. Even among non-IDUs the prevalence of HCV was 14% in women and 9% in men. This data suggest that inmates should be counseled and screened for HCV even in the absence of identified high-risk behaviors.

New York Prisons holding the largest number of prisoners with confirmed AIDS
Mohawk CF 1408 inmates; 111 with confirmed AIDS, 7.9 % of all inmates.
Albion CI 1342 inmates; 41 with confirmed AIDS, 3.1% of all inmates.
Attica CF 2211 inmates; 40 with confirmed AIDS, 1.8 % of all inmates.


State of New York
Department of Correctional Services
The Harriman State Campus
1220 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12226-2550
Glenn S. Goord
Commissioner

Letter dated: Dec 2, 2002

Governor Pataki has asked me to respond to your letter to him regarding HIV/AIDS/HCV in prisons.

Although the numbers and rates of disease that you cite are long out of date and newer data collected by the Department of Health show that the number of HIV infected inmates is now considerably lower, HIV and hepatitis C are indeed important in the incarcerated population. That is why we have invested great effort and devoted many resources in dealing with these diseases. We are working closely with the Department of Health and its AIDS Institute. We, in collaboration with the Institute, continue to emphasize prevention.

I am aware that the issue you are most concerned about is 'latex barriers' and condoms. Since I am well aware of your position on these and since the decision about their availability has been made on good penological grounds, there does not seem to be any need for us to hold a meeting.

God Bless America,
(Signature)
Glenn S. Goord
Commissioner

 

YIKES!

 

SEE ALSO

Day of Action Against Substandard Healthcare Inside New York Prisons _ June 20th, 2002

REPORT: HIV/AIDS in NY State Prisons

 

THIS IS A CONTINUING CAMPAIGN FOR HIV/AIDS/HCV PRISON REFORM
MORE INFORMATION AND LINKS COMING SOON

 



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