- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 (UPI) — The 11 million jail and prison inmates released each year bring AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis and mental disorders back into their communities, according to a report released Monday by a national healthcare coalition.

In its 121-page report, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care said hundreds of thousands of inmates from jails and prison re-enter society each year with dangerous communicable diseases that were either acquired behind bars or untreated while the inmate was incarcerated. Prisons also send thousands of inmates back into society with untreated mental disorders who are a danger to themselves and others, the report said.

"Growing numbers of incarcerated individuals suffer disproportionately from tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, mental illness, substance addiction and many chronic diseases," NCCHC said in a statement. "Corrections departments are overwhelmed by the high cost of providing medical care and face serious challenges to providing treatment to patients.

"Untreated patients jeopardize the health and safety of prison and jail staff, institution visitors, prisoners and the communities to which they return."

The report called for a congressional investigation of the conditions it found and set out recommendations for action, ranging from setting national requirements for prison healthcare to funding a national vaccine program to protect prisoners against communicable diseases. NCCHC scheduled a news conference in San Antonio, Texas, for Monday to discuss its findings.

The Justice Department funded the project, which used statistics on prevailing health conditions in the national prison inmate population on June 30, 1997, the most recent year available.

"The approximate number of releases with these conditions was obtained by applying the same prevalence percentages to the total unduplicated number of persons released from prisons and jails during 1996," the report said.

Although it used 1996 and 1997 figures, the report said that as of the most recent count in 1999, an estimated 2 million people were incarcerated in American jails and prisons and some 11.5 million prisoners are released from these institutions each year.

It found startling trends:

An estimated 34,800 to 46,000 inmates in 1997 were infected with HIV. An estimated 98,500 to 145,500 HIV-positive inmates were released in 1996.

Included among these persons in 1997 were an estimated 8,900 inmates with AIDS. An estimated 38,500 inmates were released in 1996, using these figures.

The report said there were an estimated 107,000 to 137,000 inmates with sexually transmitted diseases in 1997 and "at least 465,000" among the released prisoners. Vast numbers of prisoners were released with different forms of hepatitis, the report said.

The report said there were about 12,000 persons with active TB who served time in a correctional facility during 1996 and 130,000 inmates tested positive for latent TB in 1997. This extrapolated to 566,000 inmates with latent TB coming back into the community in 1996.

The report said that many jails and prisons fail to conform to accepted guidelines for clinical care of inmates and this makes the institutions breeding grounds for more disease. Half the nation's jails, for instance, had no screening procedure for TB and many institutions had no room for proper separation of ill prisons or the money to meet the high cost of proper care and medication.

The report said that vast savings could be realized by correcting prison health conditions because it would cut the enormous medical costs these prisoners engender when they are freed.

"Because they have a large and concentrated population of individuals at high risk for disease, prisons and jails offer a unique opportunity for improving disease control in the community by providing comprehensive health and disease prevention programs to inmates," the report said.

In addition to medication and clinical care, it recommended offering instruction in safe sex, how to overcome drug dependency and hygiene methods as well as programs that would help the inmates deal with health and mental problems when they are released.


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