Boston Globe (10.19.03) - Monday, October 20, 2003
A study from the Massachusetts Public Health Association found
that prisoners in the state have some of the highest rates in
the nation of HIV, hepatitis C and other chronic conditions.
Health officials say measures must be adopted to reduce the
spread of such illnesses once prisoners are freed.
Although the soon-to-be-released report does not specifically
address why conditions such as HIV are so common among
Massachusetts prisoners, disease specialists speculate that
much of the blame can be attributed to the wider use of
injectable drugs in the Northeast. Massachusetts prisoners
have the 7th-highest rate of HIV in the nation. Twenty-seven
percent of males and 44 percent of females in the prison
system have hepatitis C. Female prisoners are 24 times more
likely to have hepatitis C than women in the general
population. Sharing drug needles can spread both HIV and
Researchers said the high disease rates make jails and prisons
incubators of illnesses that prisoners can spread when they
return to their often-disadvantaged communities. State Sen.
Richard T. Moore, chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care,
has introduced legislation that would allow inmates to become
immediately eligible for Mass Health Essential, the state's
health plan for the poor, upon leaving custody. Currently,
they must wait weeks or months to access the system.
An initiative in western Massachusetts serves as a model.
Inmates entering facilities run by the Hampden County
Correctional Center are matched with medical teams from health
centers in the prisoners' neighborhoods. The team oversees the
inmates' care while they are incarcerated and after their
release. Studies showed that 80 percent of former inmates with
chronic conditions continued to get treatment from their
neighborhood health centers after they left the prison system.