State Cracking Down on Prison Health
The Associated Press
November 14, 2003, 4:47 PM EST
Democratic state legislators and prisoner advocates promoted legislation
Friday to give the state Health Department oversight over some aspects of the
health care system for the 65,800 inmates in New York state prisons.
The measure would mandate that the Health Department assess the treatment of
inmates with AIDS, the HIV virus and hepatitis C in the 70 state prison
facilities. According to state Corrections Commissioner Glenn Goord, about 9,250
inmates have Hepatitis C, 5,500 are HIV-positive and just over 1,000 have
"Requiring the Department of Health to evaluate the care given to a sprawling
and disproportionately infected inmate population will not only benefit the
inmates involved, but also safeguard the public health of the communities to
which they return," said Jennifer Wynn, director of the prison visiting project
at the Correctional Association of New York, an inmate advocacy group.
Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, noted that
about 28,000 inmates are released from state prisons each year.
"Providing proper medical care and prevention services in prison protects the
people in the communities to which the inmates return, corrections officers
and the inmates themselves," Gottfried said. "The Health Department has no
oversight or jurisdiction over DOCS facilities, unlike its authority to monitor
care at other clinics and hospitals in the state."
Assembly Corrections Committee Chairman Jeffrion Aubry, D-Queens, and
Gottfried presided over a hearing Friday on prison health systems.
In testimony filed with the committees, state Correctional Commissioner Glenn
Goord said the nature of the health care system in prisons is fundamentally
different than in hospitals, clinics and other civilian health facilities
regulated by the Health Department. He said direct Health Department oversight
would not be practical, but noted that Department of Correctional Services
officials are in constant contact with the Health Department about inmate health
The department also follows directives from the Centers for Disease Control
and the National Institute of Health about prisoner health, prison system
spokesman James Flateau said.
"Taken as a whole, the department is confident that its medical care system
is not only fundamentally sound, but a model for correctional systems
throughout the country," Goord told legislators.
The state Commission of Corrections currently has oversight over prisoner
health care. Flateau said Friday that the Assembly Health Committee was welcome
to also monitor the prison health system, which he contended the
Democrat-controlled house has shown little interest in funding in recent years.
Inmate advocates and former inmates complained to the legislators of
inadequate prison health staffing and of sometimes having to wait for weeks to see a
doctor. They also complained about cursory examinations by doctors and of the
frequency with which Tylenol was dispensed as the response to many inmate
Goord told the legislators that in a system as complex as the prison health
care network "individual shortcomings will occur." Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.