May 16, 2003
The study found that hepatitis B and C rates rose sharply between 2000 and 2001, with almost one in four inmates infected. In 2001, more than 1,500 inmates with hepatitis C were released into the community, up from 1,156 in 2000. But because up to 70 percent of inmates are not tested, the Correctional Service of Canada fears that hepatitis and HIV are even more widespread in penitentiaries than the statistics indicate.
Citing public health research, the department refuses to make the tests mandatory, saying to do so would undermine the trust that is crucial to getting patients on effective treatment programs. Offenders refuse testing for a variety of reasons, including fears that news of a positive test could leak to other prisoners, said Dr. Francoise Bouchard, corrections health services director-general.
Correctional officers, however, complain that not enough is being done to protect them from dangerous viruses. "As soon as they are sentenced to a federal penitentiary, there should be mandatory tests for HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis," said Sylvain Martel, president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers. When forcibly removing violent offenders from their cells, guards wear gowns, gloves and goggles - but even so, they sometimes come in contact with prisoners' bodily fluids. At least four or five times in the past two years, guards exposed to potentially infected fluids have had to undergo a six-month precautionary regimen that includes taking antiviral drugs with "severe side effects" and refraining from unprotected sex, Martel said.
05.13.03; Tom Blackwell
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