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. This development, which will help prevent jail terms from becoming de facto death sentences for those with HIV, is credited to the tireless efforts of ACLU Staff Attorney Mary Sylla and was featured prominently in Special Council Merrick J. Bobb's semi-annual report on Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD).
The jail medication crisis surfaced in early 1998 when the LASD was denied reimbursement for HIV medications by the California office administering the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), a combined state and federal effort to provide HIV medication to persons without health insurance.
Previously, ADAP had reimbursed the LASD approximately $1 million a year for the medication distributed in the jails, but in 1998, the California agency administering ADAP ceased reimbursing based upon an inaccurate factual information about the obligation of other governmental entities to reimburse the Sheriff's Department.
With the support of the LASD, ACLU Staff Attorney Mary Sylla asked the California Office of AIDS to reconsider its position, and on January 20, 1999, the agency revised its policy, noting in a letter that her efforts had "resulted in an extensive review of our policy . . ." The reimbursement will free up $1 million that the County would otherwise be obliged to spend on medication.
"The state office of AIDS has done the right thing ," said Sylla. "People in jail desperately need these HIV medications. Revising this policy proves that they truly care about those most in need.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept Commander Dennis Dahlman added, "We're thrilled. 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 Sheriffs Department to seek reimbursement again. The Sheriff's Department will begin receiving these reimbursements as soon as the mechanism for qualifying inmates for ADAP can be set up, likely within the next several months.