HIV AND PRISONER RAPE

Prisoner rape constitutes both a human rights and a public health crisis. Rates of HIV, hepatitis C, and other sexually transmitted diseases are significantly higher in prisons and jails than they are in society at large, placing survivors of sexual violence in detention at great risk for infection. JDI seeks to address the devastating link between HIV and prisoner rape by advocating for incarcerated survivors to have access to condoms and other prevention materials, to testing and counseling, and to treatment.

Fortunately, important strides have been made in addressing HIV behind bars. Jails and prisons are instituting best practices for testing and counseling and treatment, and some corrections facilities are distributing condoms to inmates, to lower the chances of a prison term becoming a life sentence. Many survivors have told JDI that, while they were unable to avoid being sexually assaulted, they could have convinced their assailants to use a condom.

The California legislature has twice passed laws to allow for condom distribution in its state prison system. The legislation was vetoed in 2007 by then Governor Schwarzenegger, who instead ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop a pilot condom distribution program at one men's prison. JDI served on the task force that developed the program, which entailed installation of condom dispensing machines for one year at Solano State Prison. The California Office of AIDS evaluated the project and has submitted a report to the Governor for his review. JDI supports distribution of condoms in California state prisons, and hopes that the current governor, Jerry Brown, will reinstate the project and expand its reach.

In South Africa, prisoner rape is directly linked to that country's HIV/AIDS crisis. HIV prevalence in South Africa is among the highest in the world, and the rate among prisoners is estimated to be more than double that of the general population. An independent commission described the government's failure to address sexual violence behind bars as "imposing a death sentence on vulnerable inmates." With over 360,000 inmates released each year, addressing sexual abuse in detention is vital to slowing the pace of the epidemic.

Whether domestically or internationally, the spread of HIV is one of the clearest examples of how ending prisoner rape will have an impact far beyond prison walls.

For more information about JDI's effort to address HIV in detention, please contact Senior Program Director Cynthia Totten at ctotten@justdetention.org.