This will not be a surprise to anyone who has been following the story of HIV criminalization in the United States over the last few years. The Black AIDS Institute has issued a report on a new academic finding that exposes the racial disparities that exist in HIV criminalization.
Two studies—one commissioned by the Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law that conducts independent research on sexual-orientation and gender-identity law and public policy, and the other presented at the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, in July 2016—link the criminalization of HIV to higher rates of incarceration for PLWHA of color, and community activists confirm it.
Researchers found that while White men made up 40 percent of the people diagnosed with HIV in California, only 16 percent of them had had contact with the criminal-justice system related to their HIV status. Black men made up 16 percent of PLWHA but 19 percent of those who had contact with the criminal-justice system. They were also more likely than White men to come into contact with the system repeatedly based on their HIV status: 25 percent vs. 10 percent. Overall, White men were more likely to be released and not charged. Black women made up only 4 percent of the population of PLWHA, yet an astounding 21 percent of them had come into contact with the criminal-justice system. Researchers say that more work needs to be done to identify what is driving the racial and gender disparities.
In July, Trevor Hoppe, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Albany, presented his paper "HIV: Does Race Impact Sentencing Under Criminal HIV Exposure and Disclosure Laws in the United States?" at AIDS 2016. Hoppe looked at five states—Arkansas, Florida, Michigan, Missouri and Tennessee—and found that Black men were given an average sentence of 110 months after being convicted on an HIV-specific criminal law, while White men averaged 74 months for violating the same statute. He found the greatest racial disparity in Arkansas, where Black men's sentences were double those of white men—279 vs. 140 months. "In Arkansas, Black men were sentenced to a dozen more years," says Hoppe.There are too many examples of public policy not keeping up with the advancement of scientific knowledge about HIV transmission and, unsurprisingly, it is people of color who appear to be disproportionately impacted by this. Just ask Michael Johnson!