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September 2, 2009

DC Council Member Marion Barry Proposes Mandatory HIV Testing for Inmates

DC Council member Marion Barry (D–Ward) has proposed a bill requiring mandatory HIV testing for all city inmates—including those convicted of a sex crime—upon jail admission, reports The Washington Post. The bill also mandates post-test counseling.

According to the city’s HIV/AIDS Administration, about 15,000 DC residents are living with the virus—the highest-known rate in the United States—and thousands more are unaware of their status. According to a report released earlier this year, at least 3 percent of DC residents are already living with the virus.

It is believed that nearly a third of all those who have tested recently are inmates.

“If you look at how the epidemic is spreading, there is a high prevalence [of HIV] in the jail population,” said Vincent C. Gray, DC council chairman and a Democratic co-sponsor of the bill. “People are bringing it back to our community, which really is continuing to spread the virus.”

The Department of Corrections reports that 99 percent, or more than 27,000, of the city inmates have chosen to be tested since its voluntary HIV testing program was launched in 2006.

Devon Brown, DC corrections director; Shannon Hader, HIV/AIDS administration director; and Walter Smith, executive director of DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, all support HIV testing but oppose making it mandatory. “Our fear is that if you put in place a mandatory program,” Smith said, “you not only have very little to gain but you may actually be undermining a good program that we already have in place.” 

The bill has been stalled in committee since July.

Search: testing, jail, inmates, prisoners, Marion Barry

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