In Prison, Women Are 9 Times More Likely to be Living with HIV

24 November 2017

In the United States, men are roughly four times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than women. However, the one group that reaches and sometimes exceeds that of men is women in jails and prisons. According to the most recent numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1.3 percent of women in prisons are living with HIV. Comparatively, the HIV prevalence among the general female population is 0.14 percent. That means that women in state and federal correctional facilities are over nine times more likely to be infected with HIV than women on the outside.

And those numbers don’t even account for what can be higher rates of HIV infection among women in jails. While prisons generally hold people convicted of felonies for sentences that are longer than one year, jails—the roughly 3,000 county or municipality-run detention facilities in communities across the country—temporarily hold people arrested but not yet convicted of a crime. Most incarcerated women today are in jails, and jails are transient places, with people constantly moving in and out. HIV-prevalence rates are often much higher in jails than they are in prisons—one study that reviewed jail health records from 2009-10 found that 9 percent of newly incarcerated women in New York City jails were living with HIV. 

“Jails and prisons are places where a disproportional number of HIV-infected women end up, primarily because both HIV and incarceration target those who are poor,” says Dr. Anne Spaulding, an infectious disease physician who has provided care for women and men with HIV and hepatitis C in prisons and jails for the past two decades. Systematic inequities are therefore at the root of incarceration and HIV for women. The behaviors that lead women to incarceration and HIV are rooted in poverty, traumatic childhoods, and sexual and physical abuse at the hands of sexual partners, who are often at risk of HIV infection too. 

Read the full article online here