As explained in the New Jersey Reentry Services Commission’s 2019 report, between 12 to 35 percent of inmates in New Jersey state prisons and county jails are hepatitis carriers while only one percent of the general population is affected. Seeking to address the issue, a bill to implement screening sponsored by Assembly Democrats Anthony Verrelli, Louis Greenwald and Shavonda Sumter was advanced by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee on Monday.
“More than half of all people living with hepatitis are unaware they have it,” said Assemblyman Verrelli (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “As a treatable disease, half the battle becomes screening for it. At the end of the day, this legislation is about taking prudent steps to ensure fairness and safety are central within our criminal justice system.”
Under the bill (A-804), the Commissioner of Corrections would be required to offer blood testing for hepatitis B and hepatitis C to every person sentenced to a term of incarceration at a State correctional facility. The chief executive officer, warden, or keeper of any county correctional facility would also be required to offer blood testing to everyone incarcerated in their facility.
“Untreated hepatitis can lead to more serious health effects, which not only impacts the life of the person suffering from this disease, but can also lead to hospitals and governments bearing the burden of uncompensated medical care,” said Assemblyman Greenwald (D-Camden, Burlington). “This legislation would both improve health outcomes for incarcerated New Jerseyans and reduce medical costs by identifying the illness before it becomes too severe.”
Testing would be offered at the commencement of a prison sentence on an opt-out basis, which would give individuals the option not to submit to testing if they so choose.
“The intent of this legislation is to make sure we are offering, not mandating, testing to a vulnerable population who might otherwise not be aware of their exposure,” said Assemblywoman Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Offering it in this way could also open the door to treatment when testing is positive, protecting against potential exposure to other inmates as well as those working within the penal system.”
The bill now goes to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.