Bill to end mandatory HIV test for ex-cons advances


LITTLE ROCK — Mandatory testing of state convicts for HIV as they leave the prison system would end under legislation that passed the Senate on Thursday.

Senate Bill 654 passed 23-3.

The sponsor, Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, said that since 2007, when the Legislature mandated testing of inmates being set free, nearly 36,000 have been tested for HIV and just two have tested positive. Eliminating the test would save the state Department of Correction about $120,000 a year, he said.

Prison officials are required to test prisoners as they enter the system and many are retested in 90 days.

“The inmate can still request a test and the Department of Correction can just do a random one and they also can do an exit one if they want,” Woods said Thursday. “All we’re doing is striking the mandate out on the exit one.”

Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, spoke against the bill, saying she did not think $120,000 a year was too much to spend to make sure inmates were HIV-free.

“We put this in so we could protect our citizens from those individuals who come out of jail and infect them,” Chesterfield said. “I don’t think $120,000 is too much to invest, not just in the health of the individuals who come out of jail, but in the health of the citizens they will impact when they come out of jail, especially the children.”

The bill goes to the House.