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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

  

COs SEEK PROTECTIONS

After blood-to-blood contact with an inmate during a struggle at the Coxsackie Correctional Facility near Albany, N.Y., Walter Wolfe, an AFSCME Local 1264 (Council 82) member, fears he’s contracted a transmissible disease, maybe even AIDS-causing HIV. But Wolfe and his family can’t be sure, because the inmate, exercising his legal rights, refused testing for HIV and other infectious diseases. Now Wolfe is afraid to touch his wife and two small daughters, worrying he could infect them.

Walter’s wife Marilyn recently took her family’s story to the U.S. Congress, calling for stronger protections for COs and other public workers against inmates with transmissible diseases.

    

Of current laws allowing inmates to refuse medical tests, she said, "We have worked so hard for a decent life ... but with all that, it appears the convicted criminals have more rights than us."

Testifying with Wolfe was Michael Graney, a CO and executive vice president of Council 82, who spoke in favor of federal legislation that would require mandatory testing for transmissible diseases of incarcerated persons.

Graney, whose council represents nearly 26,000 state correction and law enforcement officers, told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime: "Correction officers frequently have been physically assaulted by inmates and even had blood and other bodily fluids thrown at them, all of which seriously jeopardize their health and safety ... [and create] the very real risk that they would carry a disease back to their families."

HIV is just one of many serious illnesses that endanger COs on the job. For instance, as many as 40 percent of incarcerated males and 50 percent of incarcerated females are infected with hepatitis C, a deadly, bloodborne disease for which there is no known cure or vaccine.

    

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R) recently signed into law a bill that would make it a felony crime for inmates at county and state correctional facilities to throw bodily fluids, including blood, on correctional staff. COs from Council 13 lobbied at the state capitol and in legislative districts across Pennsylvania for the needed protections against communicable diseases.

New York and several other state legislatures are considering similar laws.