Study: Sending fewer men to prison may slow spread of HIV

High rates of incarceration in a community increase people's number of sexual partners and helps the spread of HIV, a study suggests.
By Stephen Feller  |  Feb. 9, 2016 at 4:51 PM
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ANN ARBOR, Mich., Feb. 9 (UPI) -- Reducing the number of men who go to jail could help to slow the spread of HIV, as well as decrease the number of sexual partners both men and women have, according to a new study.

A computer model developed at the University of Michigan showed the negative effects of more men going to prison, as well as suggesting longer sentences make the effect worse.

Researchers said they focused on men because they are incarcerated more often than women. In 2009, 954 out every 100,000 men in the United States went to jail, compared to 68 out of every 100,000 women.

"The model shows that simply removing men and returning them to the community frequently can increase the number of sexual partners that both men and women have in the community," Dr. Andrea Knittel, a researchers at the University of California San Francisco who was involved with the study, said in a press release. "It supports the assertion that mass incarceration has complicated and far-reaching unintended consequences, and may have significant public health implications."

For the study, published in the journal of Social Science and Medicine, researchers built a computer model community using 250 simulated people who date and have sexual relationships.

The researchers then ran a simulation without incarceration to see how many sexual partners men and women would have, and then ran multiple simulations with incarceration, using rates based on other studies that show their effects on relationships and the community.

Incarceration increased the number of sexual partners for both men and women, partially because of changes in the way formerly incarcerated men are seen by women and the way they see women, and harsher or longer sentences made the effects worse.

"Our model showed that high levels of incarceration likely play a role in community-level sexual behavior, and are likely detrimental in terms of sexual risk for HIV and other STDs," Knittel said. "The results suggest that reducing incarceration and creating a more open criminal justice system that supports the maintenance of inmates' relationships to reduce instability of partnerships for men who are incarcerated may have important sexual health and public health implications."

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