The National Commission on AIDS recently reported on the paucity of both HIV education for inmates and adequate health care for those who are HIV infected and incarcerated, nationally. Cermak Health Services has risen to the challenge of providing a comprehensive education and early treatment intervention program to its inmate population, a group often classified as being at high risk for HIV infection.
Cermak Health’s HIV Related Services Program offers comprehensive HIV/AIDS education and HIV related services to incarcerated men and women of the Cook County Department of Corrections. The program’s objective is to educate large numbers of uninfected individuals who may participate in activities that put them at risk for exposure to HIV. Primary medical care and early intervention services are designed to provide comprehensive, humane, and compassionate treatment and education to those already infected with HIV.
The program begins with the assignment of Health Educators to each of 10 housing divisions where the detainees live. They conduct AIDS and STD presentations that last 2 hours in duration on the housing tiers, during sick call (clinic), and in the Board of Education classes. They also conduct individual sessions with detainees who request additional information, who request HIV antibody testing, or who are referred from the medical staff. Additionally, this initiative provides extensive primary medical care to inmates diagnosed as HIV-positive with a complete diagnostic and therapeutic workup completed within 4 weeks of diagnosis. Early intervention services include access to all therapeutic modalities for HIV infected patients, mental health services in the way of individual psychotherapy and support groups, and case management services which prepares the HIV infected individual by arranging for linkages of services to be extended to the patient once they are back in the community.
One measure used to evaluate this program is the number of voluntary participants in the program. In 1992, there were 18,892 inmate encounters with Health Educators in the program. In 1991, there were 14,504 similar encounters representing a 30 percent increase in inmate encounters from 1991 to 1993. The number of inmates requesting voluntary HIV testing increased from 1,367 in 1991 to 2,208 in 1992, representing a 62 percent increase.
Another measure used to evaluate program success is the inmate surveys that health educators and mental health specialists use. During 1992, survey results were collected and compiled on 902 inmates who participated in the educational program. Ninety-two percent of inmates or greater said that the Health Educators were knowledgeable about AIDS, that they learned information from the sessions, and that the sessions were beneficial to them. Fifty-four percent would recommend them to others, and most significantly, 74 percent said that they would change their current sex habits based on the information presented.