It has been just a handful of years since the highly acclaimed “Automatic Inmate HIV/AIDS Testing and Counseling Program” at the city lockup was launched. Since that time the program has already conducted HIV screenings for more than 40,000 inmates, and jail officials are poised to keep administering the tests as new detainees enter the system.
“This month marks the fourth anniversary of our program and it’s been a highly successful effort,” District of Columbia Jail Director Devon Brown told the AFRO.
“We’ve received national awards for the program. We have been repeatedly invited to nationally renowned conferences and symposiums,” he continued. “It’s truly a model program and we’re leading the nation educating the masses about the importance of testing inmates.”
Because the District has the distinction of being in the forefront of large urban cities with the most cases of HIV/AIDS contractions among its residents, Brown said his program takes on added importance in dealing with a prisoner population.
“Particularly considering the types of adverse behavior that inmates typically engage in,” Brown said.
The program isn’t mandatory. However, Brown said, “When we have new intakes we let them know that unless they opt out, we’re going to test them for the diseases.”
More than 90 percent of the jail’s new inmates comply. Those who fail to step forward, at first, are counseled by other prisoners, who’ve been trained and certified in HIV-related issues as peer counselors. Most of those who opt out usually already know their HIV status, having been previously tested.
“Another component of the program is that are being tested when they leave the jail,” said Brown, who added that the program is largely funded through the city’s health department.
Last year, with 3 percent of the District’s 600,000 residents infected with HIV/AIDS, the city fell into an epidemic.
Having reached that unfortunate milestone, the jail’s program —a vital part of Mayor Adrian Fenty’s 2006 “Come Together DC , Get Screened for HIV” initiative—has played an integral role in reducing HIV/AIDS cases.
Also, since the launch of that effort, the Department of Health, which last year doubled the number of residents receiving free HIV medications, assisted in distributing 3.5 million free condoms.
Fenty spokeswoman Deanna Iverson said there are several programs in District aimed at quelling incidences of disease.
“We are still testing at the jail,” said Iverson, who noted that effort was one of the first the Fenty administration nose-dived into in its mission to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Iverson further stated that while the District-based Unity Health Care actually administers HIV/AIDS testing for the city, the District has been generously supplying the kits such as those used in some 95,000 tests in 2009.
“All of our programs have been greatly successful,” Iverson said, “as over the past year the District has documented a significant decrease in deaths from AIDS and in new AIDS cases.”