Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) has sponsored a measure to help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
House Bill 4453 requires the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) to develop a procedure for notifying people who have had contact with an inmate who has been diagnosed with an STD, according to a news release.
“It’s an unfortunate truth that people who are sent to prison are more than twice as likely as the general populace to have a sexually transmitted disease,” Lightford said. “The Department of Public Health already has the authority to test and treat inmates for STDs, but we don’t have a plan in place for notifying the people they may have infected. That needs to change.”
HB 4453 calls for the IDPH and the IDOC to find a way to notify the public and other prisoners who may have had contact with an inmate diagnosed with an STD. Moreover, the agencies are required to inform the inmate and their sexual partners about testing, treatment, and counseling without disclosing the infected person’s identity, the release stated.
“Even though these people are in prison, they still have the right to privacy,” Lightford said. “Having an STD is a very private thing that many people find embarrassing. However, when STDs go untreated, they can have serious consequences. We need to make sure we don’t put personal privacy ahead of public safety.”
In a statement to the Chicago Citizen, Dr. Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, IDPH Director is confident both the IDPH and IDOC can work together to inform partners of inmates diagnosed with STDs.
“There is a fine line when it comes to maintaining confidentiality, while still providing notification to someone who may have become infected with a sexually transmitted disease,” Hasbrouck said. “In a prison population with a higher infection rate for STDs, it is important we take action to try to stop the spread of disease, both inside and outside the prison system. The Illinois Department of Public Health and the Department of Corrections can work together to develop a process to identify and confidentially inform sexual partners of inmates infected with STDs.”
Stacey Solano, IDOC spokeswoman said the department will continue to work with the IDPH to notify partners and maintain confidentiality.
“The health, safety and security of inmates is of upmost importance and always the Department of Corrections’ top priority,” Solano said. “The department will continue to work with the Illinois Department of Public Health, as it does currently, to ensure that proper notifications are made when an inmate tests positive for an STD while at the same time taking the appropriate measures to protect confidentiality. IDOC strives to ensure that proper treatment and education are received by those in its custody.”
Sen. Lightford told the Chicago Citizen she decided to champion the measure because government should take an active role in promoting good health.
“Most STDs are highly treatable, but can have extremely negative consequences if they go undiagnosed,” Lightford said. “The state already tests inmates for these diseases, and I think we have an obligation to find a way to inform the people they may have been infected.”
The senator also said she believes the IDPH and IDOC will work together to inform partners of inmates diagnosed with STDs.
“I have faith that these two state agencies will work together to find a solution,” she said. “The reason we left it up to the agencies to come up with a plan is that they have a great deal of experience working with sensitive situations like informing someone that they may have contracted an STD from contact with an inmate.”
HB 4453 has passed both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly and now awaits the governor’s signature.
Lightford is confident Gov. Pat Quinn will sign the legislation.
“I believe the governor supports protecting public health and that the privacy rules in the legislation should address any concerns he might have,” the senator said.
By Thelma Sardin