AIDS is the leading cause of death in Illinois prisons, the Illinois Department of Corrections said, a situation common in prisons across the nation.

Officials said AIDS deaths surpassed other common causes, such as murder and heart attacks, for the first time last year. Of the 96 prisoners who died in Illinois prisons in 1993, 23 of them died of AIDS.Outside of prison, AIDS was only the 11th leading cause of death in the state, causing one of every 100 deaths.

Officials blame the more frequent occurrence of AIDS in prison on the relatively high percentage of intravenous drug users among inmates.

Prisoners coming into the system are not screened specifically for AIDS or HIV. Cases only become known when symptoms become apparent or are found during a health check-up.

There are currently 119 inmates diagnosed with AIDS in Illinois.

Illinois is not alone. Prison officials in California, New Jersey and New York said AIDS was the leading cause of death in their prisons as well.