Some inmates leave prison with a weapon potentially more dangerous than the crime that put them there: the virus that causes AIDS, says the Raleigh News & Observer. Some have no idea they’re sick. Neither will women they sleep with or drug addicts with whom they share needles. Black religious leaders, some public health officials, and several legislators say prisoners are impeding the effort to end the spread of HIV, a sexually transmitted virus that can debilitate the body’s immune system. Rates of infection are seven times as high in prison as in the general population.
Ministers and some public health officials are pressing prison officials to screen every inmate and treat those infected with medicine that greatly reduces the ability to transmit the virus. Stopping short of that, they say, will allow an epidemic to spread unchecked. North Carolina prisons don’t require inmates to be tested for HIV. Only those who ask for the test get it; new arrivals who admit risky behaviors such as intravenous drug use or having sex with prostitutes are encouraged to take the test. Twenty-two states, including the vast majority of states in the South, where the number of new cases are highest, require HIV testing for prisoners. North Carolina prison officials estimate the annual cost of screening everyone and treating an additional load of cases at $21 million; that estimate is based on a 10 percent infection rate, much higher than any state has seen in its prison population.