Doctors Scale Prison Walls To Help Women At Risk For AIDS Stay Out Of Jail

July 02, 1998

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - With more than one-third of the Rhode Island's HIV-infected women first diagnosed behind bars, the prison system has become a key place to prevent HIV infection and to treat women at risk for AIDS. Medical care can make a difference, according to infectious disease specialist Tim Flanigan, M.D., and his colleagues at Brown University and Miriam Hospital. In fact, women who saw the same doctor for at least two years were more likely to stay out of jail than those who did not have a regular doctor, according to a study of 1,148 women infected with HIV or at high risk for HIV infection in Providence, Baltimore, New York and Detroit, even when counting drug use and prior prison time, according to a study by Flanigan and others.

Acting on that knowledge can slow down the cycle of incarceration, release and reincarceration for women in some inner-city neighborhoods, according to other reports. In two Rhode Island interventions, short-term recidivism rates dropped by half for women who received continuous medical care from inside jail walls to outside, says Flanigan, who directs one of the first programs in the country to provide HIV-infected inmates with continuous health care during and after incarceration. In the Rhode Island studies, the 48 women with HIV and 73 women at high risk for HIV also received counseling and referrals for substance abuse, financial resources, social support and housing.

"Medical care probably provides a gateway to substance abuse help, treatment of mental health diseases such as depression, fallout from prior sexual abuse, and referral for case management of issues such as homelessness," says Flanigan. "But it's more than that. Having the same caregiver or physician gives women a sense of hope, of care and of concern, which many have never had. It's emotional support in a medical context, which can be very powerful in helping them to change their lives."

Media Contacts:
Tim Flanigan M.D., (401) 793-7152 or 785-5056 (beeper).

Brown University

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