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HIV in Prison Is Lower Than Believed

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a study showing that the spread of HIV in prison is extremely low. Of 856 males in Georgia?s prisons who tested positive for HIV in 2005, only 76 acquired the virus inside prison.

The study dispelled the myth that prisons are a breeding ground for HIV.
?The popular assumption is that prison is a very good place to contract HIV infection,? said Richard Tewksbury. ?Both inmates and society as a whole have long held the belief that transmission is common among prison inmates.?

Tewksbury has extensively studied HIV-prevention strategies and is a professor and the University of Louisville. He says that ?the interesting thing about this study is that it directly contradicts? the myth.

CDC spokeswoman Terry Butler agrees with this assessment. ?Media coverage of this issue over the past several years has been characterized by misperceptions that HIV transmission in prison is widespread.? Butler says that this viewpoint persists despite a lack of evidence to support it.

Georgia has the fifth largest prison system in the U.S. with about 45,000 men and women. The study shows that over 90% of those with HIV were already infected when they arrived. Over a 17-year period only 88 men were shown to have caught the virus after they were imprisoned. Of those 88 men two-thirds were black and one-third were white.

Only 68 of the 88 were available for interview. Twenty of them said they had never had sex in prison; 61 said they had not injected drugs and 28 had not received tattoos. Twenty-two of the infected men claim to have had gay sex with ?male prison staff.? Fifty-nine percent said they contracted the disease from homosexual relationships.

About half said the sex was consensual; 9% said they were raped; 16% admitted trading sex for favors.

?Transmission is not rare in prison, but neither did it appear rampant,? said CDC epidemiologist Patrick Sullivan.

The report also noted that Mississippi and Vermont provide state prisoners with condoms and bleach as preventative measures. These items are also provided by Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York and Washington D.C. jails.

Georgia is not considering these options. Instead, the state is considering isolating infected prisoners on separate units; a practice already in place in Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina.

However, a major flaw in this study is that it did not rely on the HIV testing of all Georgia prisoners as they entered and then left the Georgia prison system to determine how many sero converted while in prison.

Sources: Georgia Ledger-Enquirer; Washington Post

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