Saturday, December 12, 2015

Why So Many Black Women Are Dying of AIDS

In a recent VEER Magazine piece I criticized Virginia's idiotic marijuana laws that serve little purpose other than to make otherwise law abiding citizens into criminals, often sending them to prison and destroying their ability to ever secure quality jobs upon their released.  No segment of the population is hit harder by these laws than young black males who lack legal counsel and get convicted whereas whites with legal counsel either secure reduced sentences or have their sentences dropped after good behavior.  I've seen it happen sitting in court with clients with code violations, so those who deny this reality are living in a fantasy world or lying to themselves. The havoc wreaked on the black community is immense, not that most Republicans give a damn since many are racists themselves or pander to racists in the party base.  As an article in the New York Times indicates, there is another sinister and deadly outcome from such failed criminal justices policies: rampant HIV/AIDS among black women.  The article looks at the failure of criminal justice in this nation and the bigotry that is fueling the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Unfortunately, the article fails to look at the homophobia of black churches that only worsens the problem by pushing black males to be "on the down low."  Here are article highlights:
[I]t is critical that we do not overlook the significant evidence showing that the end result of these practices — the mass incarceration of nonwhite men — may also be fueling an urgent public health crisis among some of the most disadvantaged members of our society.

Although African-Americans represent about 12 percent of the United States’ population, they account for roughly half of all new infections and deaths from H.I.V./AIDS. The H.I.V. infection rate among black women is 20 times higher than for white women . . . . “If H.I.V./AIDS were the leading cause of death of white women between the ages of 25 and 34, there would be an outraged outcry in this country.”

Because most gay men do not have female sexual partners and there are relatively low rates of infection among nonblack women, and because rates of injection drug use or unprotected sex among black women are no higher than for other groups, the rapid increase in H.I.V./AIDS cases among black women has been hard to account for. But several public health studies now suggest that because people tend to select sex partners from within their own communities, higher rates of H.I.V. among men who have been in prison may raise the risk of infection in their community.

A study conducted by two professors of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, determined that from 1970 to 2000, a period in which the incarceration rates for black men skyrocketed to roughly six times the rate for non-Hispanic white men, the H.I.V./AIDS infection rate for black women rose to 19 times the rate for non-Hispanic white women. Using various sources of data to investigate the connection between these developments, they concluded that “higher incarceration rates among black males explain the lion’s share of the black-white disparity in AIDS infection rates among both men and women.” 

[I]ncarceration is a risk factor for H.I.V. infection for the following reasons: There is a higher prevalence of H.I.V. among prison populations; there are higher than average rates of sexual assault and coercive sex among men in prison; inmates have little access to condoms; injectable drugs and tattooing are risk factors that also occur in prisons; and when people are released from prison they typically have inadequate access to health care and treatment because of unemployment and poverty.

These facts suggest that an important contributor to the H.I.V. crisis among black women may be hyper-incarceration.  . . . . Outside of prison, African-Americans have the same (or lower) rates of risky sex or drug use as other Americans. Explanations like these reinforce homophobic and racist “blame the victim” attitudes. They have also impeded disease reduction by wrongly identifying vectors of transmission.

There is an urgent need for new policy approaches. We should demand rigorous enforcement of the standards mandated by the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act in order to significantly reduce sexual assaults and coercive sexual practices inside our prisons. We also need to insist that condoms be distributed inside all prisons, and that incarcerated individuals have access to H.I.V. testing and treatment before and after their release. Finally, we must continue to work to eliminate racial profiling in our criminal justice system, and significantly reduce incarceration rates by revising laws and punishment practices that unnecessarily send so many nonviolent lawbreakers to prison.
For those with their heads in the sand, HIV/AIDS in the black community is a huge problem in the  Hampton Roads area.  Pretending that the problem does not exist or ignoring the factor that Virginia's failed criminal justice system is playing in exacerbating the problem is idiocy and/or out right bigotry.. 

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