Ala. inmates’ HIV rates triple rest of population
Alabama prison inmates are about three times as likely as other residents to have HIV, according to a new report
By Sarah Whites-Koditschek
MONGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama prison inmates are about three times as likely as other residents to have HIV, according to a new report.
While HIV rates have been dropping in the United States over recent decades, the new data shows that inmates continue to be a high-risk population, said Emily Widra, a senior research analyst for the Prison Policy Initiative, a national non-profit advocacy group.
“These two epidemics, if you will, of HIV, and of mass incarceration, that tend to target the same people, and those people are particularly vulnerable,” she said.
The states with the nation’s highest rates of HIV in prison are in the South, according to the report, due to the high rates of HIV among Black men. The group found that Black inmates are also more likely to die of HIV. Between 2016 and 2019, 65 percent of deaths from HIV were among Black people.
However, Alabama’s HIV rates in prison are in line with the national average for having about 1.1 percent of inmates test HIV positive. The state has lower HIV rates in prisons than several surrounding Southern states, according to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics analyzed by the group.
Alabama is one of 18 states that offers HIV testing during routine medical exams for inmates in custody. The state saw a slight increase in the number of inmates living with HIV between 2020 and 2021 from 179 people to 185 in state prisons.
“I still think that if we’re talking about, you know, a whole percent of the, the state prison population is living with HIV, these are people who have been extraordinarily vulnerable to things like COVID-19 over the past few years and probably should be considered for release,” said Widra.
According to the report, Alabama is among 35 states that has laws on the books that criminalize exposing another person to HIV. Florida stands out for its use of its law, according to the report; the state has the highest rate of HIV in prisons and has imprisoned 154 people for HIV-related crimes over the past 20 years.
Widra said with life expectancy getting longer in the United States and HIV becoming less common overall, HIV trends in the U.S. prison population stands in contrast.
“People often don’t think of HIV as something that’s, such a crisis in people’s everyday lives.”