Inmates—A New High-Risk Population?

There are a number of people who have an increased risk for HIV infection, including:

  • Injection drug users
  • Members of the gay community
  • Women who have unprotected sex with multiple partners

But there’s another population for whom the risk may be growing—jail inmates. Overcrowding itself presents some hygiene issues, but more concerning is that close quarters in a miserable situation are conditions rife for needle-sharing.

Concerns from Overseas

While the US has not yet reported any noticeable increase in HIV infections among jail and/or prison inmates, prison populations overseas are seeing new cases of infection rise after incarceration. Cebu City jail in Philippines recently performed prisoner testing. They knew they had 48 inmates with HIV before their imprisonment, but they were shocked to find that 48 more inmates now had the infection. While officials argue about where, when and how the new cases arose, it’s highly likely that infection spread because of needle-sharing among inmates. (Of course, no prison allows illicit injection drugs, but contraband infiltrating prisons is not new.)

Translation to the U.S.

The spread of HIV infections in Filipino prisons is not likely to be an isolated incident. The conditions that contributed to the development of new cases in Cebu City are present in many US jails and prisons. There are a number of strategies that could effectively minimize the risk to jail and prison populations—providing adequate space is one, creating effective crime prevention and/or criminal rehabilitation initiatives is another. However, the funds needed for such strategies are typically not available, making HIV education and prevention, perhaps, the most cost effective remedy.

UNM Truman Health Services is a leading community resource for HIV education and prevention. Until we can coordinate widespread education efforts within MDC and other prison facilities, we can provide education and resources to friends and family of incarcerated individuals in an effort to keep those behind bars infection-free.