HIV Criminalization in California: Penal Implications for People Living with HIV/AIDS, Amira Hasenbush et al., The Williams Institute and California HIV/AIDS Research Program (2015)

White Papers and Reports

This groundbreaking report from UCLA’s Williams Institute and the California HIV/AIDS Research Program focuses on HIV criminalization in California and its effects on individuals from 1988 to June 2014. California has four HIV-specific criminal laws and one non-HIV-specific criminal law that criminalizes exposure to any communicable disease. None of these laws require actual transmission of HIV.  Since 1988, 800 people aged 14 to 71 have come into contact with the California criminal legal system under one of  four laws relating to their HIV status: solicitation while HIV positive, exposure with intent to transmit, non-consensual sex offense sentence enhancement or exposure to a communicable disease (limited to known HIV).

The report finds HIV criminalization disproportionately affects sex workers, Latinx, and Black people. A startling 95% of all HIV-specific criminal incidents impacted people engaged in or suspected of engaging in sex work. Women made up 43% of those who came into contact with the criminal legal system, but less than 13% of California’s HIV-positive population. White men were significantly more likely to be released and not charged than any other group, with a more pronounced contrast within sex work crimes.

The information gathered suggests that national HIV criminalization rates may be severely underestimated, and the report recommends research be undertaken to examine the observed population disparities and their causes, with a particular focus on factors such as race, sexual and gender minority status, and mental health issues.