Mandatory STD disclosure among inmates may become law

by Ellyn Fortino on May 29, 2012

A new measure to help stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among incarcerated individuals and the general public may soon become law if a West Side senator has her way.

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford’s (4th) plan would require the Illinois Department of Public Health and the state’s Department of Corrections to work together to develop a procedure to notify people who’ve been in contact with an inmate who has an STD and to recommend testing.

The bill, HB 4453, passed both the House and Senate May 15 and now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn for his approval.

A Quinn spokeswoman said the governor has not yet received the bill, as the legislature has 30 days after it’s passed to bring it to the governor.

Once the bill arrives, the governor will review it, said spokeswoman Annie Thompson.

If Quinn signs the bill into law, making it the first of its kind in the state, it would take effect immediately.

The two state departments must find a way to notify both the inmate and their sexual partners about testing, treatment and counseling without disclosing the infected person’s identity, according to a statement released from Lightford’s office.

“It’s an unfortunate truth that people who are sent to prison are more than twice as likely as the general populace to have a sexually transmitted disease,” Lightford said in a written statement.

The Department of Public Health already has the authority to test and treat inmates for STDs, but the state doesn’t have a plan in place for notifying the people they may have infected, she said.

“That needs to change,” Lightford said.

John Peller, vice president of policy for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, said the bill, which his organization helped work on, is “really about public health and protecting public health.”

He said the bill will also directly impact women’s health, as women are more susceptible to contracting a STD.

Peller said although 32 representatives voted “no” for the bill in the House, he’s optimistic the governor will sign it.

“We’re hopeful,” he said. “It looks very likely that it will pass.”

James Riddle, a former inmate and job developer at Bethel New Life, said ex-inmates coming home to the community with an STD is a “major problem,” but he’s not so sure about the measure’s privacy implications.

“There is still a right to privacy,” Riddle said. “That’s what’s at stake.

He said it’s a moral responsibility for an inmate with an STD to disclose their disease to partners.

“You should inform that person, but at end of the day, it’s still a right to privacy,” Riddle said. “We’re talking about the legal ramifications of this.”

Riddle said he’s worried that an individual’s STD status could become public and bar that person from obtaining a job.

“That person will never become a productive citizen,” he said. “How can you work when you have the ‘x’ on your back? Where’s the justice in that?”

It’s not clear in the text of the bill how both departments will specifically safeguard an STD-positive individual’s identity.

But Peller of the AIDS Foundation said privacy will be protected.

“Illinois law contains strong confidentiality provisions that prohibit authorities from releasing the name of the person who was diagnosed with the STD when notification occurs,” Peller said.

“In addition, the person who was diagnosed cannot be forced to disclose the name or names of his or her partners to public health officials. While of course there are privacy concerns whenever an STD is diagnosed, and particularly HIV, the confidentiality protections in Illinois law are exceptionally strong,” he said.

“We would not have supported this bill if we felt there was a risk of inappropriate disclosures that could be harmful to an individual or his or her partner.”

 

 

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