Bill to Control Hepatitis C Epidemic In CA Prisons Headed to Schwarzenegger

Press Release August 24, 2005
Media Contact

Glenn Backes at (916) 202 2538 or Andrew Martinez at (916) 319 2061

Sacramento- The State Senate passed a bill today that would require that all prisoners receive hepatitis C prevention and treatment information. The final vote was 35-0.

If signed by the Governor, Assembly Bill 296, authored by Gloria Negrete-McLeod (D- Chino) will encourage prisoners to be tested and treated for the infection that is now the number one cause of liver failure in the nation.

McLeod’s bill should be on the governor’s desk very soon. Recently redrafted with assistance of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, it received almost unanimous support today in the Senate, and an earlier draft likewise had overwhelming support in the Assembly. It is sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance and supported by several unions including the one that represents corrections officers.

With one in every three prisoners carrying the disease, Assemblywoman McLeod said her primary interest is preventing a worsening of the epidemic in communities by first controlling it in prisons.

“Inmates are released back into community on a daily basis,” said McLeod. “Without knowledge of their own status or how the disease is spread, parolees will infect others in our communities.”

According to a 2001 study by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), over a third of California prisoners and 40% of parolees are infected with the disease. According to California Department of Health Services estimates, 600,000 Californians are currently infected with hepatitis C.

AB 296 should cost the state very little to implement because all the educational materials will be provided by outside health education programs. It should also result in fewer infections in the general public in the future, by reducing the prevalence of the disease among parolees. An infected person can infect others through blood-to-blood contact through tattooing, sharing syringes or other means. If untreated, hepatitis C can do significant damage to the liver, and in some cases, death.

“It costs taxpayers or insurance companies $300,000 to replace a liver,” said Glenn Backes of Drug Policy Alliance, the sponsors of the bill, “But that’s only if they can find a healthy one; thousands die every year waiting for a transplant.”

“Controlling the epidemic in the prison is the first, and most cost-effective way of protecting the public from this disease,” said Backes.

Gray Davis vetoed a similar bill in 2002. Proponents voiced optimism about its prospects with Schwarzenegger, “Based on his prior actions, I’d say that Governor Schwarzenegger is very good on public health issues, especially if they save money,” said Backes. “Apparently he gets it-an ounce of prevention is worth a million dollars in cure.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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