Study Committee Evaluates HIV Laws and Mental Health Funding in Indiana – Indianapolis Business Journal

Lawmakers and other stakeholders on Tuesday discussed possible amendments to Indiana laws regarding HIV-specific criminal penalties and sentencing enhancements.

Republican Summer study committee also weighed additional funding and other resources for psychiatric hospitals and community care centers across the state that serve incarcerated people who have mental health or behavioral issues.

The committee’s recommendations could result in a bill during the next session in January.

Advocates push for changes in state HIV laws

Physicians and other advocates who spoke to the committee argued that several Indiana code provisions regarding HIV are outdated. They said the laws did little to prevent transmission and instead promoted stigma and discrimination.

This includes current provisions that:

– Require people living with HIV or hepatitis B to warn others that they may be at risk of contracting the disease when engaging in sexual activity or sharing needles, even when transmission is not possible ;

– make it a crime for HIV-positive people to donate or sell their sperm, blood or plasma;

– Describe sentence enhancement charges that make it a crime for HIV-positive people to expose others to bodily fluids, including those known not to transmit HIV, such as saliva .

Indiana is one of 20 states that have not modernized or repealed criminal HIV laws since they were enacted in the 1990s, at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

“I am deeply concerned that Indiana’s criminal HIV laws do not reflect current scientific knowledge about this condition,” said Dr. Bree Weaver, an HIV specialist at Indiana University School of Medicine. “These laws were written decades ago, at a time when medical understanding was limited and fear of HIV and people living with it was immense.

Weaver pointed out that scientific developments over the past 20 years have “significantly changed the realities” of living with HIV, noting that new science has also broadened researchers’ understanding of how the disease is – and does not. is not – transmitted. It is commonly assumed – but incorrectly – that spitting and biting are two forms of reasonable transmission, she said.

Dr. Carrie Foote, director of Indiana’s HIV Modernization Movement, said the group has worked in recent years with lawmakers to update Indiana’s code “with more person-centered language, to improve the way we talk about HIV”.

Past attempts to bring such a bill to the Indiana General Assembly have, however, failed – including during the last 2022 session.

Rep. John Young, R-Franklin, said at Tuesday’s meeting that while he thinks the law should be modernized, he thinks the sentencing enhancement should stay in effect.

“No one should be forced to disclose, but I don’t see a problem with someone being stigmatized because they’ve committed a crime,” Young said. He specifically referred to law enforcement officers who could be spat on by aggressive individuals who want to “intentionally” spread HIV during arrests, for example.

Foote, who has lived with HIV for 34 years, disagrees with this sentiment.

“Although people live extremely well, do what everyone does in life – work, have a family, etc. ,” she says.

Newly diagnosed HIV cases in Indiana have remained fairly stable in recent years, although there has been a slight increase in 2022, said Jeremy Turner, director of the HIV, STD and Viral Hepatitis Division at the Department of Health. Indiana State Health. Yet AIDS cases continue to decline.

Sex remains the No. 1 route of HIV transmission in Indiana, even despite an increase in injections spurred by the opioid epidemic, Turner continued.

To help reduce the number of cases, the state health department funds several initiatives to help Hoosiers prevent, diagnose, and treat HIV and hepatitis. The federal government has also made it easier for high-risk populations to access PrEP, a drug taken to prevent HIV.

Foote recommended that lawmakers change the criminal law to be based on the criminal intent to infect and transmit HIV. She added that a criminal law should only include punitive measures proportionate to the harm. The law should also not be specific to HIV and should exclude airborne or accidentally transmitted diseases.

“If the HIV epidemic started today and was a chronic, manageable disease with multiple prevention methods available like we have today, we wouldn’t be passing these laws,” Foote said. “We know this because we are protecting public health without resorting to criminal laws for recent serious communicable disease challenges in our state, such as syphilis, COVID-19 and now monkeypox.”

Health officials call for funding overhaul for psychiatric hospitals

Separately, members of the study’s summer committee discussed a new model of certified community behavioral health clinics that would better ensure that patients and offenders at Indiana psychiatric hospitals and the Indiana Department of Corrections Indiana are receiving proper care upon release.

Community leaders and advocates said their intention was to reduce the number of people returning to prison after receiving mental health and drug treatment services.

People who have been taken to jail and identified as having mental health needs are 1.5 times more likely than anyone else to be re-arrested within six months, said Bernice Corley of the Indiana Public Defender Council.

She pointed to a new pilot program in Marion County where a “holistic model” will be tested next year to help keep services available for incarcerated people during and after sentencing. The goal is to help reduce recidivism and decrease the number of cases in Indiana’s criminal justice system.

“What we’re proposing here is to look at public defense, not in representation once the client is guilty, but in transferring that brand of representation and wraparound services to that person after they’ve been convicted, as well as as it transitions into the community and help stabilize them,” Corley said, adding that the model could be considered on a broader, statewide level.

Jay Chaudhary, who oversees the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse Division, said Indiana’s six state psychiatric hospitals currently treat about 600 people.

At least 83 of these people are ready for release now but cannot yet be released, mainly due to problems finding suitable accommodation. He said it costs the state about $1,200 to $1,500 a day for each person to be housed in a public hospital.

“Housing and transportation remain huge barriers to care,” Chaudhary said. “It’s hard to treat someone with a mental illness if they don’t have stable housing or can’t get treatment.

Representing Indiana’s 24 Community Mental Health Centers – which provide a range of behavioral health and addictions services – George Hurd said the dilapidated group living sites, a shortage of 5,000 to 7,000 therapists throughout the condition and challenges of serving an aging population of Hoosiers in need of services prevents members of the system from accessing the best possible care.

Funding for community health centers currently relies heavily on donations, Hurd said. Additional state dollars could help.

“We’ve done a great job reducing the number of people in state-run facilities,” Hurd said, noting that Indiana psychiatric hospitals housed some 50,000 people at their peak. “The system has reached a point where more stable and consistent funding is needed to respond to the current community safety net and to move it forward.”

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization that covers state government, politics and elections.

Denise W. Whigham