Doing Time in the shadow of Death: Women Prisoners and HIV/AIDS

Barbara H. Zaitzow, Appalachian State University
Angela West, University of Louisville

In the last decade, both the number of female inmates and the average length of their sentences have increased dramatically. A by-product of the recent "confinement era" within criminal justice is the influx of ill and generally unhealthy female offenders into this nation's correctional institutions. In addition to tuberculosis (TB), one of the pressing public health concerns facing correctional systems today is human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Defiiency Syndrome (AIDS). While no segment of the incarcerated population is immune to this infection, an alarming number of female inmates have been shown to test positive for HIV at higher rates than male inmates (Maruschak, 1999). The high rates of HIV infection and AIDS among women offenders are essentially the result of intravenous drug use, trading sex for drugs and money, sexual abuse, living under conditions of poverty, and other gender-specific conditions of their lives, which make them more prone to HIV infection (DeGroot, Leibel, & Zierler, 1998). The problem of HIV infection and AIDS is especially serious for incarcerated women, who often receive the smallest piece of the resource pie. As women in prison have different treatment needs and problems than their male counterparts, their need for gender-specific services has prompted researchers and advocates to call for increased attention to correctional programming for women and increased use of community-based interventions and alternatives. This paper highlights the need for the corrections community to address the special needs of female inmates infected with the HIV/AIDS virus and to acknowledge the impact of HIV/AIDS on all imprisoned women in the United States.

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Updated 05/20/2006