JDI IN THE NEWS - ARCHIVED

Joyce Price, Inmate's Lawsuit Point Up HIV Infection by Prison Rapes, The Washington Times, June 4, 1995.  

A male inmate has filed a lawsuit against Illinois prison officials charging that they failed to protect him from other prisoners who repeatedly raped him and infected him with the AIDS virus.  

W. Shepherd Smith Jr., president of Americans for a Sound AIDS/HIV Policy, is familiar with the suit. He and others say prisons are not doing enough to prevent rapes and the risk of HIV transmission within their walls. "It's abhorrent that someone who's sent to prison for a nonviolent crime, such as writing a bad check, may be raped, infected with HIV and given a death sentence," Mr. Smith says.  

National AIDS Policy Director Patricia S. Fleming said in November her office would work closely with the Justice Department and the federal Bureau of Prisons to address the issue of "HIV transmission through prison rape."  

Her office did not return phone calls seeking up-to-date information about what is being done.  

Theodore M. Hammett, a consultant, prepares a biannual federal study of AIDS in U.S. prisons for the National Institute of Justice and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

He says the lawsuit brought by Michael Eric Blucker, an Illinois inmate serving 10 years for burglary, "may be the first documented case of [HIV] seroconversion" involving an inmate during his incarceration.  

In other words, the Blucker case may be the first in which a prisoner has proof he was HIV-negative when he entered a prison and became HIV-positive during his confinement after being raped.  

Mr. Hammett says that other prisoners have made similar charges without the documentation, and that several studies of individual state corrections systems have "demonstrated HIV transmission is occurring" among prison inmates.  

"Percentages are small, but it's a serious issue [and] needs to be addressed with a policy response," he says.  

But there is disagreement as to how that should be done.  

Two states, Alabama and Mississippi, have addressed the problem with policies that mandate HIV testing of all prisoners when they enter the corrections system and segregate HIV-positive inmates, Mr. Hammett says.  

Fourteen other states require HIV screening of prisoners at intake but do not segregate those infected with the virus unless they are engaging in practices that increase the risk of spreading HIV.  

Stephen Donaldson, head of Stop Prison Rape Inc., agrees that HIV transmission in prison is "a serious problem" and estimates that "about 5,000 additional people [in the prison system] per year" become infected.  

Mr. Donaldson says that figure was extrapolated from unpublished data from a study of the Illinois corrections system. The study, conducted by the CDC, found that 0.33 percent, or one-third of 1 percent, of adult male inmates are infected with HIV behind prison walls each year.  

As for prison rapes, Mr. Donaldson cites a recent survey of Nebraska prisons, conducted by a University of South Dakota researcher, that found a "22.3 percent sexual victimization rate" among male prisoners and a 7.7 percent rate among female inmates.  

"Nationally, our organization estimates there are 360,000 [rape] victims a year" in prisons, he says.  

Same-sex rape between male prisoners means anal sex, which, "unprotected, is the most risky [sexual] behavior" for transmission of HIV, Mr. Donaldson says.  

"Gang rape," which is not uncommon in prisons, is especially risky, he says, because it is particularly bloody, and blood is the "easiest way to transmit HIV."  

Blucker, the Dixon, Ill., inmate who has sued corrections officials, says he was often the victim of gang rapes.