HIV-Positive Inmates In California To Receive $1-Million Worth Of Life Saving Drugs

February 22, 1999 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES, CA — The California Office of AIDS has promised to revise its existing jail policy so that all HIV-positive inmates, regardless of what charges are pending against them, will have access to life saving HIV medications, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California announced today.

The ACLU of Southern California has worked extensively on the program which will help prevent jail terms from becoming de facto death sentences for those with HIV.

“The state Office of AIDS has done the right thing,” said ACLU of Southern California staff attorney Mary Sylla. “People in jail desperately need these HIV medications. Revising this policy proves that they truly care about those most in need.”

The jail medication crisis originated in early 1998 when the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was denied reimbursement for HIV medications by the California office administering the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, a combined state and federal effort to provide HIV medication to persons without health insurance.

Previously, officials had reimbursed the Sheriff’s Department approximately $1 million a year for the medication distributed in the jails. But in 1998, the California agency administering the drug assistance program halted the funds, based upon faulty information about the obligation of other governmental entities to provide reimbursement.

With the support of the Sheriff’s Department, Sylla and the ACLU asked the California Office of AIDS to reconsider its position. In response, the agency recently revised its policy, freeing up the $1 million that the County would otherwise have been obliged to spend on medication.

“We’re thrilled,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Commander Dennis Dahlman. “We’re going to reapply for those funds and will anxiously await reimbursement from the State.”

The ACLU, along with the HIV & AIDS Legal Services Alliance, first sought the change in policy in a June 24, 1998 letter. More than six months later the Office of AIDS responded, paving the way for the Sheriff’s Department to seek reimbursement again. The Sheriff’s Department will begin receiving these reimbursements as soon as the mechanism for qualifying inmates for the program is established, likely within the next several months.

The new policy was featured prominently in Special Council Merrick J. Bobb’s semi-annual report on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

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