Ohio Leaves Prisons' Role Unexamined; Statistics About Inmates, HIV Either Don't Exist or Haven't Been Tallied
March 22, 2002
It is no secret among Ohio health officials that HIV is spreading rapidly among black women. What seems to be a surprise is that there might be a connection between the numbers of black men cycling through the Ohio corrections system -- a total of 112,284 men between the ages of 25 and 44 over the last decade, of which 56,000 are black -- and the upsurge in infections among black women.
Until asked by the Akron Beacon Journal, the corrections department has never totaled how many infected inmates passed through the system over the years. Once asked, it took the state more than five months to provide the numbers because the records are not computerized.
The data show that 1,063 black men tested HIV-positive on the way into prison between 1990 and 2000. That represents more than one-fifth of all black males reported infected with HIV in Ohio in that decade, living or dead.
More than half of Ohio's inmates are black, while only 12 percent of the state's population is African-American. The state cannot provide a total count of people who went to prison in the 1990s because its database includes repeat offenders. It estimates that 43 percent of the men who entered prison in 2000, for example, had been there before.
The Beacon Journal weeded out repeat offenders from the database of more than 200,000 prison admissions since 1990 and focused on men born between 1956 and 1975 who, in 2000, were likely to be sexually active upon release. The 56,000 black men found make up 31 percent of the average number of all black males of those ages reported living in Ohio in 1990 and 2000 censuses.
The large proportion of young black men in prison is the result of the nearly fivefold growth of Ohio's prison system in the past 25 years, coupled with the war on drugs, which has snared many more blacks than whites. In fact, the Beacon Journal found that two of every three male inmates imprisoned since 1990 solely for drug crimes were black.
With a different analysis, the Beacon Journal found that about nine in every 1,000 male inmates in 2000 were HIV-positive -- more than four times the infection rate for all adult males in Ohio. Even adding an estimate of the Ohio men who have HIV and don't know it, based on the health department's highest guess, the prison infection rate is still nearly three times higher.
Three-quarters of Ohio's infected black women in recent surveys cited "high-risk heterosexual contact" as the likely cause of their having contracted HIV. This route was chosen over intravenous drug use. The women were not asked whether their sexual partners had been in prison.
Akron Beacon Journal (Ohio)
03.17.02; David Knox
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.