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U.S. News

HIV-Positive Former Inmates Face New Obstacles in Society

May 4, 2011

According to the US Department of Justice, about 1.5 percent of state and federal prisoners are HIV-positive. Though some inmates engage in high-risk behaviors behind bars -- including unprotected sex, injection drug use, and tattooing -- data do not support the assumption that former inmates play a central role in the black community's high HIV rates, said Joseph B. Richardson Jr., Ph.D., an assistant professor of African-American studies at the University of Maryland. In fact, infection risk may increase once inmates leave prison and return to high-prevalence communities, he said.


Many returning inmates assume their partner has been celibate, which may not be the case, Richardson said. In addition, new partners the former prisoners meet "can possibly be engaging in unprotected, high-risk sex."

Precious Jackson, a women's health educator at the Center for Health Justice in Los Angeles, said couples need to communicate about sex and the risk of HIV after a partner has been incarcerated. She recommends that both parties get tested for HIV.

For HIV-positive former inmates, accessing medication, stable housing, and routine medical care are essential, said Lena Asmar, director of clinical and social support services at AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts. "What often makes people's health decline after they get out of incarceration is not having stability to take their medication," she said.

Asmar suggests the following steps for HIV-positive people leaving prison:

  • Find an advocate: Local AIDS service organizations can provide information about programs and services that can help.
  • Explore local hospitals' offerings: "Look for one that does infectious-disease work and has providers that are not judgmental and know about HIV."
  • Get emotional assistance: Feeling isolated after returning home from prison is common. A local HIV/AIDS support group can help inmates better handle the challenges they face.

Back to other news for May 2011

Adapted from:
Chicago Defender
04.17.2011; Tamara E. Holmes

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
HIV-Positive Former Inmates Face New Obstacles in Society
More on the Incarcerated and HIV

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