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One in Six HIV-Infected Americans Spent Time in Prison or Jail in 2006

The authors of a study published in November 2009, which was partially funded by the Emory Center for AIDS Research, reported that the number of HIV/AIDS cases involving releasees from prisons and jails in the U.S. decreased by nearly 30% between 1997 and 2006.

More specifically, the authors found that approximately one in five (20%) of all HIV-positive Americans was released from jail or prison in 1997, while that rate had dropped to one in seven (14%) by 2006. Although the proportional share of HIV/AIDS cases involving prisoners has declined, the total number of HIV-positive prisoners has remained more or less constant at 150,000 nationwide.

Some of the study’s other findings are worth repeating. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS among prisoners was reported to be 1.7% in 2006, while the prevalence of AIDS (defined as the latter phase of infection) was 0.5%. Jail and prison popula-tions, the authors reported, have similar demographics related to HIV risk.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 1.1 million people in the U.S. were HIV positive in 2006. The study’s authors estimated that there were 9.1 million releases from prisons and jails that year. With a seroprevalence of 1.7%, that translates to approximately 155,000 HIV-infected releasees.

The study’s authors estimated that a total of 10.6 million Americans (including both releasees and those who remained in-carcerated) spent some time in a jail or prison in 2006. With a seroprevalence of 1.7% that means, astonishingly, that approximately one out of every six Americans with HIV was incarcerated at some point that year. Even more surprising is that between 22% and 28% (or roughly one-fourth) of black men with HIV passed through a U.S. correctional facility in 2006.

The authors speculate that the decline in the proportional share of HIV/AIDS among those who are incarcerated is attributable to, among other reasons, decreasing HIV seroprevalence among those admitted to jails and prisons, prolonged survival and aging of the U.S. population with HIV/AIDS beyond crime-prone years (generally considered to be between the ages of 15 and 24), and success with release planning programs for HIV-positive prisoners.

The study stresses that because virtually all prisoners and detainees eventually return to the community, effective treatment and interventions for prisoners with HIV should remain a public health priority.

Note: For more information on the prevalence of HIV among U.S. prisoners, see the related article in this issue of PLN regarding a U.S. Dept. of Justice report on that topic.

Source: Spaulding AC, Seals RM, Page MJ, Brzozowski AK, Rhodes W, et al. (2009), “HIV/AIDS Among Inmates of and Releasees from U.S. Correctional Facilities, 2006: Declining Share of Epidemic but Persistent Public Health Opportunity.” PLoS One 4(11): e7558

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