HIV Criminalization Laws Still Defy Science, Reports Say
May 30, 2014
Many states across the U.S. have retained HIV criminalization laws that fly in the face of what's known about HIV transmission, according to recent reports.
New maps published on Huffington Post earlier this month highlight individual states that make it a crime for someone with HIV to perform acts that pose negligible risk for transmission, such as "throwing of bodily fluids," or that have extremely low HIV risk associated with them, such as oral sex. The article also draws attention to controversial policies that are in active use in cases such as that of a woman in Florida who was jailed and faces charges of "criminal transmission of HIV" after accusations of spitting on a police officer.
The stirring stats cited in the Huffington Post article were culled from an article published in March in the journal AIDS and Behavior, written by researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). In total, the article notes that "twenty-five states criminalize one or more behaviors that pose a low or negligible risk for HIV transmission," including 11 states that criminalize spitting.
These findings come one year after the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) called for an end to HIV criminalization laws that ignore current medical and scientific knowledge about HIV transmission. Many of these laws date back to the late 1980s, when the conservative think tank American Legislative Exchange Council provided a template for punitive laws to state legislatures.
Meanwhile, another new report looks at these HIV-specific laws through a broader analysis of what's contributing to the high rates of people with HIV and LGBT people in the criminal justice system.
A Roadmap for Change: Federal Policy Recommendations for Addressing the Criminalization of LGBT People and People Living with HIV was penned by Columbia University's Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, The Center for HIV Law and Policy, Streetwise and Safe and the Center for American Progress.
The report states that "LGBT people and PLWH, especially Native and LGBT people and PLWH of color, are significantly overrepresented in all aspects of the penal system, from policing, to adjudication, to incarceration. Yet their experiences are often overlooked, and little headway has been made in dismantling the cycles of criminalization that perpetuate poor life outcomes and push already vulnerable populations to the margins of society."
David Plunkett, who experienced HIV criminalization directly, offers his perspective within the report. "At 43 years old I never imagined how different my life would be because of my arrest and incarceration," he writes. "I also never realized the stigma attached to those with HIV and especially those who also have a criminal record. From then until now I should have been able to focus on my health and career, not battling a system that incarcerates those who live with a chronic illness, and remain uninformed about the nature and transmission of the HIV virus."
In order to modernize current laws, practices and policies that criminalize HIV exposure, nondisclosure, and transmission, the authors recommend:
In addition to the specific recommendations on HIV criminalization, the report covers policing and law enforcement, prisons and detention centers, immigration-related issues, criminalization of youth and drivers of incarceration.
"Justice continues to be elusive and conditional for LGBT people and PLWH due to a range of unequal laws and policies that dehumanize, victimize, and criminalize these populations, even as attitudes toward and acceptance of LGBT people have reached an all-time high," the report states. "The good news is that the time is ripe, now more than ever, for the federal government to leverage this momentum and intervene to address the criminalization of LGBT people and the harms they face once within the system."
Julie "JD" Davids is the managing editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow JD on Twitter: @JDAtTheBody.
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