Intraprison HIV Transmission and the Prison Subculture

Christopher P. Krebs, Research Triangle Institute

Two theoretical models have been employed to explain the prison subculture and inmate behavior. The prisonization model postulates that inmates react/adapt to the deprivations of imprisonment by forming the inmate subculture and behaving accordingly. The importation model, on the other hand, contends that inmates import their social system with them when they enter prison. While these models have traditionally competed for support, a number of researchers have called for theoretical integration and have successfully documented its appropriateness. In this study of intraprison HIV transmission, the theoretical models are tested in the context of behaviors that facilitate HIV transmission in prison, namely, sex, intravenous drug use, and tatooing. Inmate responses to a survey indicate that both theoretical models play a role in explaining the behaviors that facilitate intraprison HIV transmission. Support for prisonization and importation, however, is not uniformly distributed across all three high-risk behaviors. While both models explain high-risk HIV transmission behavior in general, certain behaviors are explained largely by individual models. Prison sex, for example, appears to be largely the result of prisonization (deprivation of heterosexual relationships), whereas intravenous drug use seems to be largely a product of importation. While theoretical integration has its place in explaining the universe of inmate behavior and the prison subculture, wholesale integration may not be necessary when attempting to explain specific behaviors.

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Updated 05/20/2006