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HIV Drops Behind Bars

HIV Drops Behind Bars

The estimated number of state and federal prisoners known to be HIV-positive is at its lowest since 1991, according to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics released this August.

The report shows that in 1991 — the first year it began keeping records — 17,680 prisoners were known to be HIV-positive. That number peaked in 1998, when 25,980 inmates were living with HIV.

As of 2015, those numbers have dropped back to 17,140, down an additional 600 from the year before.

Between 2010 and 2015, the number of HIV-positive men behind bars declined by 14 percent, while the number of women locked up with HIV declined by 31 percent. The number of AIDS-related deaths have also decreased significantly — from 73 deaths in 2010 to 45 deaths in 2015, according to data from BSJ’s Deaths in Custody Reporting Program.

This could well be the impact of the Obama administration’s efforts to send nonviolent drug offenders to rehab instead of prison, and the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 that reduced sentences for some drug offenses.

It’s also likely that prison populations are benefiting from the same thing the population at large is: the success of treatment as prevention (TasP) and PrEP. As treatment has become more available, more people with HIV are reaching undetectable viral loads and therefore cannot transmit the virus to sexual partners. Meanwhile, more people are taking PrEP to prevent contracting the virus.

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