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Prison A Major Factor In Spreading AIDS

A recent study entitled African Americans, Health Disparities and HIV/AIDS has directly linked incarceration to the spread of AIDS in minority communities. Robert Fullilove ED.D., of Columbia University authored the study which was released on December 1, 2006 to coincide with World AIDS Day.

The Fullilove study highlights the fact that, in spite of making up only 13 percent of the U.S. population. African American men, women and children account for half of all AIDS deaths each year.

In 2004 America?s prison population was 2.13 million. African Americans made up 41 percent of those prisoners. Drawing from data linking infectious diseases and prisoners it was estimated that 150,000 to 200,000 HIV-infected citizens were also incarcerated at some point. That total is about one-fourth of those infected in the U.S. The same study also estimated that up to 40 percent of those infected with TB and hepatitis-C also passed through a correctional facility during the same period.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice AIDS in U.S. prisons was three times higher than that of the general population percentage.
Researchers P.C. Johnson and S. Raphael, of the University of California Berkley concluded that ?Our results reveal that the higher incarceration rates among black males over this period [2005] explain a substantial share of the racial disparity in AIDS infection between black women and women of other racial and ethnic groups...[because] the dynamics of prison entry and exit, coupled with a large increase in incarceration rates for men, are likely to impact the rate at which existing sexual relationships dissolve and form.?

The Fullilove study also showed that few detention facilities actually take steps to prevent the spread of AIDS. County jails in Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington DC supply prisoners with condoms. Houston and San Francisco county jails supply prisoners with bleach which can be used to clean their needles. Only Mississippi and Vermont state prisons supplied their prisoners with condoms.

Ninety-five percent of all U.S. prisons do not supply condoms to prisoners, have a needle exchange program or supply prisoners with bleach.

?Complacency is killing people,? said Dr. Beny Primm, chairman emeritus of the minority AIDS council. ?HIV/AIDS remain a real and growing danger in our own backyard.?

Some Black politicians and civil rights leaders across the country have embraced the study as a call to action. U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland California declared, ?The fact is that this administration and the Republican Congress have never paid much attention to the needs of African American or minority communities when it comes to fighting AIDS, and you can bet we are going to work to change that in the new Congress.?

In its five-point proposal the Fullilove study outlined what it found to be the primary determinants for the continued spread of AIDS in the black community. These included: 1) the need for more affordable housing; 2) the marginalization of gay black men; 3) the need for routine testing and early detection of HIV; 4) to reduce the impact of incarceration as a driver of new HIV infections; and 5) the expansion of drug treatment centers and recovery prevention programs.

While the study did not specifically espouse the latter as an alternative to incarceration its implementation would likely have that effect.

Apart from HIV/AIDS alarming data also emerged regarding TB and hepatitis-C. A 2005 study of the national TB surveillance system covering the decade between 1993 and 2003 showed that, compared with an infection rate of 6.7 per 100,000 in society at large, federal prisons averaged an infection rate of 29.4 and state prisons averaged 24.2 cases per 100,000.
?The intersection of drugs, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis-C and TB is particularly alarming,? reads the report.

It should be noted that, in spite of the disproportionate representation of HIV in prisons, 90 percent of all new infections occur outside prison walls. But as in all matters that touch its doorstep, prison has a way of making matters worse.

Sources: San Francisco Chronicle, ?African Americans, Health Disparities and HIV/AIDS? Report.

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