According to a new study, shorter prison sentences could put HIV rates in decline by reducing the number of sexual partners for both men and women in the community.
- Researchers conducted a computer simulation on 250 agents
- They found men incarcerated for longer time increases the spread of HIV
- There rate of incarcerated men is 954 per 100,000 residents
- Imprisoned men have shown to indulge in risky sexual behavior
Researchers from the University of Michigan conducted a computer simulation that aimed to show the effects of prison sentences on the community as a whole. The research focused mainly on men, as the rates are much higher for incarcerated males. According to the researchers, the numbers are 954 men per 100,000 residents, in comparison to 68 women per 100,000 residents. Thus, the study’s subject was centered around males.
The team of scientists created a computer simulation of 250 “agents”, or people, dating and having sexual relationships. After, they ran the simulation again, but included incarceration as an influencing factor. According to their findings, longer prison sentences resulted in more men and women in the community to have more sexual partners. This, in turn, increased the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
According to lead author of the study, Dr. Andrea Knittel, who is a researcher from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), by removing and returning men to the community frequently, it increases the average number of sexual partners for everyone. One of the influencing factors is that men who have been incarcerated have a slightly higher risk of ending a relationship and becoming less desirable partners. That encourages sexual intercourse with other people, which increases the chance of STDs.
Furthermore, previous research has shown an association between incarceration and risky sexual behavior. This includes having more than one sexual partner at a time. However, this is the first time a study focuses on the effects of incarceration on the community as a whole. And, according to the study, it does have detrimental effects on the health of the population.
Naturally, as the average sentence grew in length, so did the risk of more HIV infection or other STDs. That suggested that harsher and longer penalties might actually add more weight to the burden on the population’s health. According to Dr. Knittel, their study suggests that reducing prison sentences by creating a “more open criminal justice system” may have a significant impact on sexual health. The main concern would be to support inmates in maintaining relationships.
Dr. Knittel believes that their study could be useful, as there is a growing interest in decreasing prison sentences due to overcrowded institutions. The computational models are admittedly never ones to be applied in real-life situations without proper consideration. However, they are “though provoking” and show that it is indeed possible to lower the rates by reducing incarceration.
However, the true issue now stands in how it should be brought about. Shorter sentences? Better support for inmates and their partners outside of prison? Or the regular safe sex warnings? It appears to be debatable whether the spread of HIV and STDs is a problem influenced more by the number of sexual partners or the actual protection during the act. Not to mention the use of intravenous drugs.
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