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Solving one challenge for people leaving jail or prison: connecting to HIV health care

January 26, 2018

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Helping people leaving Illinois’ jails and prisons thrive is at the core of the Safe & Sound Return Partnership (SSRP), a three-year program that started in October that will connect 215 returning citizens Led by the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) and funded by a $900,000 federal grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), SSRP will also partner with and train citywide housing and employment providers to offer strong, unique care to HIV-affected and reentry communities. The program also makes system-wide changes to help better coordinate services for returning citizens living with HIV and AIDS.

“This initiative allows a collaborative community participatory taskforce to coordinate case management, employment and housing services and improve health outcomes by working at three levels: client, provider and systems,” said Cynthia Tucker, Vice President of Prevention and Community Partnerships at AFC and the project’s leader. She indicates the program is critical to combatting stigma, homophobia and racism while creating policies and structural interventions to improve health outcomes of this focus population. AFC has led the reentry corrections case management program since 1999; since Tucker began leading it in 2005, the program has helped over 1,500 people living with HIV leaving state prisons and jails get connected to medical care, a home if needed, and support systems to help them take care of their health. 

Illinois’ adult correctional system has the country’s eighth-highest population of people in jail or prison or on probation or parole, totaling 215,100 people ages 18 or older as of Dec. 31, 2015 . Many of the communities most impacted by the criminal justice system are also most impacted by HIV, including Black and Latino gay and bi- men, Black women and transgender women of color. In 2015, an estimated 686 people in Illinois jails or prisons were living with HIV or had confirmed AIDS cases, making up 1.5% of the total custody population . The Cook County Jail alone releases approximately 600 people living with HIV annually, according to Dr. Chad Zawitz, Director of the Continuity of Care Clinics at the Cook County Jail and CORE Center. Once released, they face additional challenges — such as lack of economic resources; high rates of mental health disorders, trauma, and substance use/abuse; and the dual stigma of HIV and corrections involvement — that complicate their health, life stability, and successful reintegration into the community.

SSRP works at the client, provider and systems levels to ensure that people leaving jail or prison who are living with HIV maintain good health so they feel better and ultimately achieve an undetectable viral load, which would make them unable to pass HIV on sexually to others. SSRP builds on AFC’s Corrections Program, which is funded by the Illinois Department of Public Health. The program partners with Cermak Health Services/Cook County Jail, prison discharge planners in Cook and its surrounding counties, and two facilities in Cook County’s public health system — the Ruth M. Rothstein CORE Center and Austin CBC — to identify HIV-positive returning citizens prior to discharge or as soon as possible post-release. The Corrections Program uses a team of intensive Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program Corrections Case Managers to coordinate access to, monitor usage of, and track client outcomes across a range of medical/behavioral, housing, employment and other support services. SSRP will leverage this existing infrastructure while strengthening AFC’s partnership with Christian Community Health Center (CCHC), which provides primary care, housing and employment services to communities of color on Chicago’s far South Side; and establishing new collaborations with the AIDS Housing Constituency Group — Chicago’s planning group for provision of HUD/HOPWA transitional/permanent supportive housing and housing assistance — and the Illinois Department of Commerce Office of Employment & Training, which administers federal funding for employment readiness, job training and job placement opportunities from the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act.

Categorized under Advocacy, Case management and Illinois.

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