NEW YORK — Prison watchdog group the Correctional Association of New York (CANY) recently claimed many HIV positive inmates across the state prison system remain undiagnosed. The report comes after a two-year study conducted by the group, which reviewed staffing, prison health statistics and other factors.
In the CANY report, the group, which has been monitoring prison conditions independently since 1846, states that it examined system-wide data made available through the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) concerning medical staffing levels, the prevalence of HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) diagnoses, testing and monitoring, utilization of specialty care services and other pertinent information. Additionally, the group collected surveys from roughly 100 inmates living with HIV and HCV.
According to the association report, incarcerated populations tend to have the highest rates of serious chronic illness such as HIV and hepatitis C, but also experience more limited access to community care. The group visited 18 prisons between Jan. 2011 and Oct. 2013, and collected specific HIV and HCV-related information, often conducting interviews with prison medical staff and inmates alike.
Ultimately, the group determined that the prison population in the DOCCS “suffers from very high rates of HIV and HCV, and the Department has difficulty identifying all those individuals in its custody who are infected with these illnesses and/or engaging these persons in care.” Though the group did identify facilities in which patients with chronic illness were closely monitored and received timely and appropriate care, inmates in many other facilities reported more limited access to specialty care, and expressed frustration with the quality of care available to them.
The group ultimately determined that the quality of inmate medical care, especially where it concerns inmates with HIV, HCV and other chronic illnesses, varies greatly across the New York state correctional system. The group claims this is due to factors such as limited medical resources, training and skill limitations and other factors.
After reviewing their findings, the CANY divided their data into categories such as Routine Medical Care, HIV and HCV Prevalence, Indentification and Testing, and Chronic Care for HIV- and HCV-Infected DOCCS. The group also issued recommendations to both the New York State Department of Health and the AIDS Institute, as well as the DOCCS. These recommendations included analyzing the effectiveness of current testing programs, improving care and discharge planning for infected persons, integrating and increasing the role of HIV/HCV peer educators and implementing HIV/HCV prevention programs based in harm reduction. The group also advocated for filling all vacant prison medical staff positions, increasing prison health care funding and expanding the DOCCS pharmacy system to include every state prison.
Though New York state correctional officials have not responded to the Oct. 2013 report, a similar study published by the group in 2000 was then criticized by a State Department of Correction spokesman, who called it both inaccurate and misleading.
To review the Correctional Association of New Yorks’ complete list of prison health findings and recommendations, visit: http://www.correctionalassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Correctional-Association-2013-Summary-of-HIV-and-Hepatitis-C-Care-in-NYS-Prisons.pdf.