Sacramento-Yesterday a bill allowing all prisoners to receive hepatitis C prevention education upon entrance into the state's prison system passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee. Democrats and Republicans agreed that the bill was urgent and that debate for the highly supported piece of legislation could be waived.
Assembly Bill 2529, authored by Gloria Negrete-McLeod, allows all prisoners access to free and confidential testing for hepatitis C, a virus which attacks the liver. Studies have shown that approximately one third of all prisoners in California prisons are infected with the virus. If untreated, hepatitis C can lead to liver diseases including cancer and cirrhosis. In extreme cases, advanced liver disease can require a liver transplant.
"More than 50,000 prisoners are infected with hepatitis C today; there will be more next year," said Glenn Backes, national health policy director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "If this epidemic is unchecked taxpayers can expect to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to treat late stage liver disease down the line."
Assemblywoman McLeod stated that her primary interest is controlling the epidemic in communities by controlling it first in prisons. "Inmates are released back into the community on a daily basis," she said Tuesday. "Without knowledge of their own status or how the disease is spread, parolees will infect others in our communities."
The bill goes next to Assembly Appropriations for consideration before being sent to the full Assembly, the Senate and the Governor's desk.