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spread among blacks may be linked with incarceration rate

spread among blacks may be linked with incarceration rate

Researchers say rising rate of HIV among blacks linked with high rate of HIV among incarcerated black men.

Although African-Americans account for just 13% of the nation's population, they represent nearly half of all new U.S. HIV diagnoses, and now researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, say they may know why, The Washington Post reports. The scientists said that the high rate of HIV among blacks may be closely linked to the fact that African-American men are incarcerated at significantly higher rates than other racial groups. Because HIV prevalence levels are significantly higher among prisoners than the general population, African-American men may be getting infected at high rates while in prison and then transmitting the virus to their female sex partners once they're released, theorized the researchers.

Using census information on prison rates and federal data on about 850,000 U.S. HIV patients collected between 1982 and 1996, researchers Rucker Johnson and Steven Raphael of the University of California, Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy determined that as the number of African-American prisoners increased, so did the HIV rate in black communities. The data showed that about 40% of U.S. prisoners in 1982 were black, but that percentage climbed to well above 50% by 1996. That, coupled with the fact that the overall number of prisoners in the country doubled in the 1980s and 1990s due to tougher sentencing laws, resulted in a more than doubling of the number of blacks in U.S. prisons over a 14-year span.

HIV transmissions in U.S. jails frequently occur because very few detention facilities provide condoms to prisoners, despite studies that show about half of all male prisoners will engage in sex with another male prisoner while incarcerated. Illicit tattooing and injection-drug use behind bars also spreads HIV and other blood-borne diseases, say health officials.

Since virtually all prisoners are released at some point, those who are infected with HIV while in prison end up passing the virus along to their wives, girlfriends, and other sex partners once released, according to the study.

Johnson and Raphael said their study data linking race, prison, and HIV is so strong that they believe it almost completely explains HIV's disproportionate impact on African-Americans. (

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