Akron Beacon Journal Examines HIV/AIDS in Prisons in Five Article Series
The Sunday Akron Beacon Journal in a series of five articles examined the correlation between "soar[ing]" rates of HIV/AIDS among Ohio's black population, the large proportion of black inmates and the high risk of contracting HIV in prison. According to the Beacon Journal, black Ohioans are six times more likely to be infected with HIV than white Ohioans, and black women in the state are 11 times more likely than white women to have HIV. The likelihood of a black male being sent to prison in Ohio is 25%, compared to 4% for white males. In addition, approximately 42,500 black men were released from Ohio jails at least once in the 1990s, with another 13,500 remaining in prison, and there is "no question" that the risk of contracting HIV in prison is higher than "on the outside," the Beacon Journal reports. An analysis of prison records and Ohio Department of Health data indicates that nine out of every 1,000 male inmates in Ohio are known to be HIV-positive, compared to two out of every 1,000 Ohio men overall. In addition, 1,544 male inmates were found to have the virus upon their entrance to prison, and almost 70% of these men were black. While a "growing number" of public health advocates have noticed the correlation between the number of black men released from prison each year and the rising HIV infection rates among black Ohioans and declared that "it's time to change" the trend, prison officials "deny it flatly." Reginald Wilkinson, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said, "It very well could be [that there is a correlation], but we have no information at all that any inmate gave [HIV] to another inmate" (Akron Beacon Journal, 3/17). The Beacon Journal article is accompanied by four related stories about HIV among blacks and its prevalence in prisons. The accompanying articles are summarized below:
- "Ohio leaves prisons' role unexamined": Public health advocates in Ohio will not "get an answer" from state officials about whether a correlation exists between the rise in HIV/AIDS infections among black women and the HIV rate among incarcerated black men, and the "situation isn't likely to change soon" because the state health department "isn't looking for the information," the Beacon Journal reports (Knox, Akron Beacon Journal, 3/17).
- "Inmates' coercion makes sex a currency": The Beacon Journal examines the common use of both consensual and non-consensual sex in prison to repay debts or favors. While "most of the sex" that occurs in prisons is voluntary, both rape and "coerced sex" to settle debts "happe[n] in prisons," putting inmates at increased risk of contracting HIV (Akron Beacon Journal, 3/17).
- "Studies of HIV's spread in prisons are few, flawed": Research on HIV transmission in prison is "wildly contradictory and often flawed," the Beacon Journal reports. According to one Florida study, 21% of state prisoners contract HIV while in prison, whereas a study by the CDC found that only 0.33% of Illinois prisoners contract HIV while in prison. Only seven formal studies on HIV transmission rates in prison have been conducted to date, according to the Beacon Journal (Newkirk, Akron Beacon Journal, 3/17).
- "Groups in two states take case to women": Public health advocates in Texas and California, the two states with the highest incarceration rates, have begun HIV prevention programs that "aren't waiting for proof of the HIV risk brewing among inmates," according to the Beacon Journal. In Texas, Project Cadena (the Spanish word for "link") promotes HIV testing of inmates immediately upon their release. In California, Centerforce, a not-for-profit organization, distributes a video warning women about protecting themselves from HIV if their partner was formerly in jail. In addition, two researchers recently placed "partner with a history of incarceration" on a checklist of HIV risk factors used in a study, and a Los Angeles AIDS clinic now routinely asks HIV-positive women if their partners have ever been in prison (Newkirk, Akron Beacon Journal, 3/17).