New Research Examines Attitudes About HIV and Support for HIV Criminal Laws Among Alabama Convicted Offenders

Brad Barber and Bronwen Lichtenstein's new article, Support for HIV Testing and HIV Criminalization Among Offenders Under Community Supervision, is the first research of its kind to investigate possible links between HIV criminalization and barriers to HIV prevention and care among convicted offenders.
By Catherine Hanssens Executive Director/Founder, CHLP

Brad Barber and Bronwen Lichtenstein's new article, Support for HIV Testing and HIV Criminalization Among Offenders Under Community Supervision, is the first research of its kind to investigate possible links between HIV criminalization and barriers to HIV prevention and care among convicted offenders. A significant majority of the participants were African American. One of the interesting, paradoxical findings of their work is that while most of the participants cited mandatory HIV disclosure, fear of arrest and jail as barriers to testing, even more believed that Alabama's HIV law was fair and appropriate. Some incorrectly believed that HIV non-disclosure could be charged as attempted murder in Alabama. Some even believed that HIV itself is a crime.

Perhaps it is true that inaccurate perceptions about the ease of transmission and the efficacy of current treatment options might explain the significant support for the belief that non-disclosure is "an act of murder or death sentence." However, the authors believe that the vengeful responses of the participants might very well “reflect the power of HIV stigma to create social distance from the ‘other,’ even among convicted offenders who have a discredited identity of their own." The authors posit that the implications of their findings are that stigma may be particularly harsh in HIV-affected communities. The majority of the participants indicated that they did not know someone living with HIV, and an even larger majority did not believe that they were at risk of becoming infected.

Barner and Lichtenstein suggest that careful consideration of the apparent inconsistences in responses helped to "solve a riddle": parolee and probationer participants supported the law because of the basic premise that non-disclosure is murder, and saw it as a barrier to testing for the same reason, i.e., that PLWH are "murderers in the making." There is good reason to think that this type of logic reflects prevailing community attitudes, as the authors posit.