Williams Institute study reveals who is being affected by state laws that criminalize people with HIV

UCLA Health article

Data on California criminal laws that were intended to control the spread of HIV, revealed that in 95 percent of incidents, no proof of exposure or transmission was required for prosecution, according to a study released today by the UCLA Williams Institute.

Records obtained from the California Department of Justice on the criminal history of all individuals who have had contact with the criminal justice system under four of the state’s HIV-related criminal laws, show that from 1988 to 2014, 800 people living with HIV were directly impacted by these laws, said the report’s primary author, Amira Hasenbush, the Jim Kepner Law and Policy Fellow at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.

Some findings from the report, titled “HIV Criminalization in California: Penal Implications for People Living with HIV/AIDS,” include:

  • Ninety-five percent of these incidents involved allegations of sex work. The law that criminalizes sex workers living with HIV does not require intent to transmit HIV or exposure to HIV.
  • Blacks and Latinos made up 67 percent of those who came into contact with the system based on charges of these crimes.
  • Examining all HIV-specific criminal incidents, 60 percent of white men were released and not charged. While only 36 percent of black men, 43 percent of black women and 39 percent of white women were released and not charged.

“Like the rest of the criminal justice system, we are seeing certain communities bearing more of the weight of the penal code than others,” Hasenbush said.

The state outcomes suggest that national HIV criminalization rates may be much higher than currently estimated.

Read the full press release.

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