Race and Gender Differences in Imprisonment Increase Risk for HIV

Vancouver, April 4, 2008 — There are clear disparities in life expectancy among prison inmates in the United States based on race and gender, finds a new study authored by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE). The current imprisonment practice in the United States may negatively influence prison populations, explain the authors, adding that the negative health effects of imprisonment and new interventions to reduce them should be an urgent priority within both corrections and public health.
The study, published in Harm Reduction Journal, looked at the prison population health of 1.75 million persons between the ages of 18 and 44 in the United States from 2000 to 2004. Research showed the burden of imprisonment is not evenly distributed across gender and race in the population.

Prisons were found to have a disproportionate number of African Americans and Hispanics, and the lifetime probability of being imprisoned in 2001 was six times higher for males than females. African American males can expect to spend on average 3.09 years in prison over their lifetime, and Hispanic and Caucasian males can spend on average 1.06 and 0.5 years respectively. African American females spend on average 0.23 years in prison, and Hispanic and Caucasian females spend on average 0.09 and 0.05 years correspondingly. Overall, African American males can expect to spend over sixty-one times longer in prison as compared to Caucasian women, however, the life expectancy at birth of African American males was 69 years or 11 years less than Caucasian women.

Sexual violence and consensual sex without condoms, as well as drug injection and tattooing without sterile equipment, were reported to occur at dangerous levels. These actions also resulted in the transmission of diseases, such as HIV, write the authors.

“These health consequences may be reduced by introducing better health, addiction treatment and mental healthcare, distributing condoms and needles, preventing violence and coordinating services as inmates move back into the community,” says lead author Dr. Robert Hogg, director of epidemiology and population health with the BC-CfE and health sciences faculty member at Simon Fraser University.

The findings also suggest the extensive reliance on incarceration to control behaviour has social costs not fully recognized. The most direct way to reduce these consequences would be to reduce the number of people who go to prison, Hogg explains.

“Because laws criminalizing drug possession are the major driver of the imprisonment of non-violent offenders in North America, changes in these laws could be expected to have a significant impact,” says Hogg.

In North America, injection drug use accounts for approximately one in four cases of HIV. Another recent BC-CfE study, published in the American Journal of Health Public Health, reported that in B.C., injection drug users from ethnic minorities may be particularly vulnerable to HIV infection.

For a full copy of the study or interview requests, contact Stephen Burega, media relations, 604-506-3734, stephen.burega@karyo-edelman.com or contact William Mbaho and Karyo Edelman at 604-623-3007 or email william.mbaho@karyo-edelman.com

About the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS
Founded in 1992 by St. Paul’s Hospital and the provincial Ministry of Health, the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS is a key provincial resource seeking to improve the health of people with HIV through the development, ongoing monitoring and dissemination of comprehensive investigative and treatment programs for HIV and related diseases. St. Paul’s Hospital is one of seven care facilities operated by Providence Health Care, Canada’s largest faith-based health care organization.