Inmates receive health care, but lack means to prevent transmission

You’re in: AIDS at 25 Coverage / Mixed Record for Prisons in Fight Against HIV/AIDS

Credit: Adam Tinney

As told to Lindsay Borthwick

BOSTON—There’s a persistent perception that jails and prisons are “breeding grounds” for HIV and other infectious diseases. But in a recent commentary in the American Journal of Public Health, I argue that there actually isn’t strong evidence for HIV transmission among correctional inmates. There certainly is evidence of transmission within the prison population, but not evidence that it’s widespread, which suggests that the vast majority of inmates with HIV/AIDS probably acquired their infections on the outside.

Still, I agree from many standpoints with UNAIDS’ recent characterization of prisoners as one of four “major at-risk and neglected populations” in the HIV/AIDS pandemic. There’s little doubt that in the US, the highest-risk populations for HIV infection are in these facilities. This presents a unique opportunity for those of us in public health to design and implement good interventions for prevention and care, as well a services to assist prisoners with the transition back into society upon their release.

Correctional facilities should be primary settings for HIV prevention and treatment, but government has been slow to adopt this point of view—and results have been mixed.

For instance, if like most public health professionals, you think that making condoms available to prisoners is an important component of preventing HIV transmission, then nothing has changed. There are still just seven prisons and major jail systems in the US that distribute condoms. But from a human rights perspective, there’s been a lot of improvement in medical treatment in prisons in the last 20 to 30 years, particularly since the advent of HIV. (Ironically, for this population, the best care they get for HIV/AIDS may be when they’re in prison.)

Another very positive trend is the dramatic decline in the extent to which HIV-positive prisoners are segregated within jail and prison facilities. In the early years, and even into the mid-to-late 1980s, a fair number of correctional facilities had policies that required all people with HIV to be separately housed. That was really discriminatory. Particularly now, with the emergence of effective treatment, there’s no reason why people with HIV/AIDS can’t live within the general prisoner population and do all the same kinds of work and activities as everybody else.

—Hammett is vice president of Abt Associates Inc., a public health consultancy in Boston, Mass. He has been working on AIDS in the prison population for more than 20 years and completed 10 national surveys of policies and practices in correctional systems regarding HIV/AIDS.

Originally published August 17, 2006

Tags

Share this Stumbleupon Reddit Email + More

Now on SEEDMAGAZINE.COM

  • Ideas

    I Tried Almost Everything Else

    John Rinn, snowboarder, skateboarder, and “genomic origamist,” on why we should dumpster-dive in our genomes and the inspiration of a middle-distance runner.

  • Ideas

    Going, Going, Gone

    The second most common element in the universe is increasingly rare on Earth—except, for now, in America.

  • Ideas

    Earth-like Planets Aren’t Rare

    Renowned planetary scientist James Kasting on the odds of finding another Earth-like planet and the power of science fiction.

The Seed Salon

Video: conversations with leading scientists and thinkers on fundamental issues and ideas at the edge of science and culture.

Are We Beyond the Two Cultures?

Video: Seed revisits the questions C.P. Snow raised about science and the humanities 50 years by asking six great thinkers, Where are we now?

Saved by Science

Audio slideshow: Justine Cooper's large-format photographs of the collections behind the walls of the American Museum of Natural History.

The Universe in 2009

In 2009, we are celebrating curiosity and creativity with a dynamic look at the very best ideas that give us reason for optimism.

Revolutionary Minds
The Interpreters

In this installment of Revolutionary Minds, five people who use the new tools of science to educate, illuminate, and engage.

The Seed Design Series

Leading scientists, designers, and architects on ideas like the personal genome, brain visualization, generative architecture, and collective design.

The Seed State of Science

Seed examines the radical changes within science itself by assessing the evolving role of scientists and the shifting dimensions of scientific practice.

A Place for Science

On the trail of the haunts, homes, and posts of knowledge, from the laboratory to the field.

Portfolio

Witness the science. Stunning photographic portfolios from the pages of Seed magazine.

SEEDMAGAZINE.COM by Seed Media Group. ©2005-2015 Seed Media Group LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Sites by Seed Media Group: Seed Media Group | ScienceBlogs | Research Blogging | SEEDMAGAZINE.COM