This report from Human Rights Watch presents troubling findings from the Louisiana parish jails and its abysmal medical care for many inmates living with HIV. Contrary to CDC recommendations, many inmates have little or no access to HIV testing and treatment. Others do not report their status for fear of harassment. Addressing HIV in inmates is an urgent Constitutional and human rights obligation, yet many incarcerated people remain undiagnosed, become gravely ill, and many others are lost to care after leaving the correctional facility.
The report presents recommendations to various government bodies and agencies, including the state Department of Corrections, Office of Public Health, and the United States Department of Justice. In addition to increased testing and treatment programs, proposals include staff training and increased mental health and drug treatment support outside of prisons.
As the report notes, ‘[t]he state of Louisiana is “ground zero” for the dual epidemics of HIV and incarceration. The death rate from AIDS in Louisiana is among the highest in the US” and “. . . in 2010, the prevalence of HIV in Louisiana state prisons was 3.5 percent, the second highest in the country.” Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country, with thousands arrested for minor, non-violent offenses and targeted due to drug dependence, racial profiling and discriminatory law enforcement, unaddressed mental health issues, and poverty. Additionally, “[t]he HIV epidemic and the criminal legal system are marked by similarly disturbing racial disparities: in Louisiana, African-Americans are 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV and five times more likely to be incarcerated than whites.”