Relationship between incarceration and race disparities in US HIV rates explored

December 12, 2005

There may be a relationship between incarceration and race disparities in American HIV rates, Yale researchers report in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.

Led by Kim Blankenship, associate research scientist at Yale's Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS (CIRA) in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, the study reviews existing studies and secondary data on trends of incarceration rates and HIV infection levels.

While African Americans make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, they are 40 percent of those incarcerated, 40 percent of all AIDS cases reported through 2003 and 50 percent of new HIV diagnoses in 2003. The article points to drug policy at both the state and federal level as playing a central role in increasing incarceration rates in the United States, especially among African Americans.

"There are clearly individual health risks for people while they are incarcerated, including unprotected sexual contact, drug use and tattooing," said Blankenship. "Beyond that, I am particularly interested in how the disruption of social and drug use networks, when a person enters and leaves prison, affects the individual, their partners, family members and the larger community."

Blankenship and co-authors call for further research to better understand the corrections system as a determinant of HIV risk and how reforms in the corrections system have mediated this risk. They also describe the need for information about which components of drug policy have the greatest impact on vulnerability to the corrections system, particularly for African Americans.

"With Project SHARPP, we are now studying the impact of parole and probation programs on individual HIV risk, drug use, social connections and socioeconomic vulnerability, as well as race and gender differences in these impacts," said Blankenship. With over four million people on probation and 775,000 on parole, Blankenship said these community supervision programs are an important component of the corrections system. African-Americans are disproportionately represented in these programs. Thirty percent of the people on probation and 41 percent of those on parole are African American.
Other authors on the study include Amy Smoyer, Sarah Bray and Kristin Mattocks. The research is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Citation: J. of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, Vol. 16 (November 2005).

Yale University

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