HIV, Black Lives, and Criminal “Justice”

By Michael Broder
Director of The HIV Here & Now Project

Today is a day to think and feel and pray and talk about the murders of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Dallas police officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa, and all the others, police and civilian alike, injured in the Dallas shooting, and family, friends, anyone anywhere whose minds and hearts and spirits are soaking in spilled blood right now.

It is also a day not to forget the impact of HIV on black lives, an impact which is completely enmeshed not only with anti-black racism, white supremacism, heteropatriarchy, and predatory capitalism, but also and every day with the criminal justice system. The impact of an HIV that is racialized, criminalized, and weaponized as a tool in the ongoing genocide of black Americans.

Today I do not have the data, the research, the fully thought out and crafted arguments that I would like to have about the convergence on black lives of the prison industrial complex, the military industrial complex, and the healthcare industrial complex. Talk about the intersectionality of our identities—what about the intersectionality of the repressive forces massed against black lives? How we create social and economic conditions that maximize opportunities for black Americans to get HIV (particularly young black gay men and transgender women); then we create criminal justice conditions that punish black lives for the activities that contribute to their HIV risk—drug use, sex work, domestic abuse, mental illness, poverty; then we incarcerate black bodies in prisons organized, once again, to maximize their risk of HIV infection while incarcerated; then we diagnose them as HIV-positive while they are in prison and give them substandard healthcare as well as making them targets of HIV stigma; then, when we do release them back into society, we make it as hard as we can for them to access HIV care and treatment. “Wham, bam, fuck you black man!”

Since I do not have much more that I can write confidently about these issues, I am copying and pasting the brief essay “Prisons and Jails” from the website of The Center for HIV Law and Policy.

Prisons and Jails

Over two million people are incarcerated in the United States. Men and women of color, particularly black men and women, are disproportionately represented in the correctional system. In 2010, black men had an imprisonment rate that was nearly seven times that of white men, and almost two and a half times that of Latino men. Each year, an estimated one in seven persons living with HIV pass through a correctional or detention facility. At the end of 2010, state and federal prisons held over 20,000 people living with HIV. The rate of HIV among prisoners is 5 to 7 times that of the general population. HIV rates are highest among black prisoners.

The correctional setting is often the first place incarcerated men and women are diagnosed with HIV and provided treatment. Inmates in jails and prisons across the United States, generally, do not receive health care that meets public health standards. In some facilities, prisoners with HIV have no confidentiality or privacy regarding their HIV status. They may be segregated and housed separately from other inmates, and may be blocked from some recreational activities and work assignments.

For many inmates, the behaviors and circumstances that contributed to their HIV infection are those that led to their incarceration (e.g., drug use, sex work, domestic abuse, mental illness, poverty). For others, infection with HIV occurred during incarceration, either by coerced or consensual sex, or by sharing needles or syringes for injecting drugs. Response to the critical need for health care interventions and prevention efforts in correctional facilities have a direct impact on the health of the communities to which prisoners return.

© The Center for HIV Law and Policy

Large Blog ImageI would like to post more ideas and information about these issues. If you have access to the data, the research, and you have the passion to write about this topic, contact us.