Gay City News (New York City) (10.23.03) - Thursday, October
On Oct. 21, members of ACT UP-NY assembled at the Lincoln
State Correctional Facility in Harlem and demanded that the
New York State Department of Health take over health care
inside state prisons because, they claimed, the Department of
Corrections is not fighting a crisis of HIV and hepatitis C
infections among inmates. The activists said the crisis is the
result of inadequate health care, a lack of testing, and a ban
on condoms in state prisons.
The protest precedes a Nov. 14 hearing of the state Assembly
Committee of Health in which three related bills are to be
discussed. Assemblymember Richard N. Gottfried (D-Manhattan)
is sponsoring two bills that together would define the health
care systems of state and local correctional facilities as
hospitals, bringing them under the oversight of NYSDOH, and
require that they implement HIV/STD education and prevention
programs, including condom distribution.
"These are not earth-shattering proposals," said Ronald
Johnson, associate executive director of Gay Men's Health
Crisis. "It would just bring prison hospitals into line with
the rest of the state."
Emmaia Gelman from ACT UP-NY said that while state and federal
health officials promote condom use to protect against HIV and
hepatitis C, condoms are contraband in state prisons. "The CDC
insists that people use condoms, but 60,000 inmates do not
have access," Gelman said, adding that sex between inmates,
while illegal, does take place. Group member Melvyn Stevens
said he believes a lack of education, confidentiality and
access to medication are all part of the problem.
Chino Hardin, who has spent time at Rikers Island correctional
facility, said she tested HIV-positive while incarcerated, but
all her tests since she was released have come back negative.
Hardin believes she was told she was HIV-positive because she
is lesbian. "The same thing happened to a friend," Hardin
said. "I think it's happening on purpose. It's a form of