AIDS-Related Deaths Among State and Federal Prisoners Declining
The number of AIDS-related deaths among inmates in state and federal prisons has "fallen sharply" since 1995, but the number of HIV-positive prisoners continues to rise, according to a new report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the AP/Dallas Morning News reports (AP/Dallas Morning News, 7/9). The report traces HIV/AIDS trends in the nation's prisons between 1995 and 1999, the last year for which statistics are available. Some of the findings are outlined below:
- The number of inmates in state prisons who died of AIDS-related causes dropped from 1,010 in 1995 to 242 in 1999, a decline of more than 75%. AIDS-related causes accounted for 32% of all deaths among state prisoners in 1995 but only 8% of deaths among state prisoners in 1999.
- The number of HIV-positive inmates in state and federal prisons grew from 24,256 in 1995 to 25,757 in 1999. However, the percentage of HIV-positive inmates in the overall prison population declined over the same time period, dropping from 2.3% in 1995 to 2.1% in 1999. Although the overall prison population grew by 19% between 1995 and 1999, the overall number of HIV-positive prisoners grew at a rate of only 6% during the same time period.
- HIV-positive prisoners were concentrated in "relatively few" states. New York had the largest number of HIV-positive inmates, followed by Florida and Texas. In 1999, these three states housed nearly 50% of all HIV-positive inmates in state prisons, with New York alone containing more than 25% of all HIV-positive state prisoners.
- In 1999, 27% of HIV-positive inmates in state prisons had AIDS, compared to 37% of HIV-positive inmates in federal prisons.
- The proportion of AIDS cases among the prison population was 0.6% in 1999, five times as high as the rate of AIDS in the general population (0.12%). The number of AIDS cases in state and federal prisons has grown every year since 1995.
- In 1999, 3.4% of all female state prison inmates were HIV-positive, compared to 2.1% of male state prisoners (Maruschak, "HIV in Prisons and Jails," July 2001).
Drug Treatment Beneficial
The study cited the introduction of antiretroviral and other anti-AIDS drugs as responsible for the "vast improvement in the effectiveness" of care for HIV-positive prisoners, AP/Newsday reports. Jennifer Kates, senior program officer for HIV/AIDS policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said that although the study revealed some positive news, there is still room for improvement. "It does seem there are some positive trends reflecting decreasing death rates, but AIDS cases in prison are still five times the rate of the [general] U.S. population," she said (AP/Newsday, 7/9). Advocacy groups say that "much more needs to be done" to properly care for HIV-positive inmates. Carlos Arboleda, director of treatment education at the National Minority AIDS Council, said that while prisoners "are getting better treatment than they were five years ago, to say that they are getting decent treatment is an overstatement." He added, "If there is a lockdown, inmates may not have access to treatment. Security always supersedes treatment and that's the nature of prisons" (Associated Press, 7/9). The Bureau of Justice Statistics report is available online.