October 24, 2019 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

How Criminal Laws Target People Living With HIV

CHART1
HIV criminalization rates both in California and nationally may be much higher than currently estimated, according to data that UCLA’s Williams Institute obtained from the California Department of Justice.

BY AMIRA HASENBUSH & AYAKO MIYASHITA  |  In the current political climate, it’s almost impossible not to think about the criminal justice system – whether it protects and serves, how it helps or harms our communities, and whether justice is being delivered equitably and fairly. These conversations lead to examination of every step of the system – stop and frisk, arrests to convictions, sentencing and re-entry. But what do you do when laws have the specific and stated purpose to target a specific population? In California, there are four such laws that apply to people living with HIV (PLWH). These laws criminalize otherwise legal conduct or increase penalties for criminal offenses based on a person’s HIV-positive status. There has been a growing consensus that laws that single out HIV and treat HIV differently from other communicable diseases add to the already heavy burden of stigma that HIV carries.

HIV criminalization rates both in California and nationally may be much higher than currently estimated, according to data that the Williams Institute obtained from the California Department of Justice. California is generally known as a state that rarely utilizes its HIV criminal laws, and previous estimates identified only a handful of individuals coming into contact with the criminal justice system on the basis of their HIV-positive status. It came as a big surprise when we found that 800 people had been involved in 1,263 HIV-related criminal incidents from the time these laws were passed in 1988 through June 2014.

Across the state, Los Angeles was the largest enforcer of HIV-related criminal laws: 48 percent of HIV-specific criminal incidents occurred in Los Angeles County, while only 37 percent of PLWH in California have lived in the county. Throughout California, 95 percent of those HIV-related criminal incidents were under a state law that makes it a felony to solicit for sex work while HIV-positive – a statute that does not require intent to transmit HIV, actual transmission or even exposure to HIV in order to prosecute. Nearly every incident that led to HIV-specific criminal charges – 389 out of 390 incidents – ended in conviction, and 91 percent of those convicted were sent to prison or jail for an average of over two years.

The biggest revelation was the prosecution rates under these laws.  Across all HIV-related crimes, white men were significantly more likely to be released and not charged whereas black men, black women and white women were significantly less likely to be released and not charged. 

CHART2

These disparities were even starker among individuals assumed to be engaged in sex work under the solicitation while HIV-positive statute. White men were not charged in 70 percent of cases, while all others were not charged in 42 percent of cases.

When we talk about these figures, we are talking about people.  Criminalization in any form can change the course of a person’s life.  But the application of HIV criminal laws is yet another additional burden placed upon individuals living with HIV.  To the degree that these data suggest an unequal application of justice, we must ask ourselves – are these laws fair or are they merely steeped in fear?  Do they protect and serve, help or harm our communities?  Is justice being delivered here?   Our research does not provide us with all the answers to these questions.  But we can say that just like the rest of the criminal justice system, under HIV criminalization laws, certain communities bear more weight of the penal code than others. 

  Amira Hasenbush is the Jim Kepner Law and Policy Fellow and Ayako Miyashita is the Brian Belt HIV Law & Policy Fellow at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

in AIDS, NEWS
Related Posts

LGBTQ+ Senior Housing in Gay Paradise

October 19, 2019

October 19, 2019

More than 39 million people in the U.S. are age 65 years or older including 2.4 million people who identify...

Walking for a Cure

October 17, 2019

October 17, 2019

Lace up your sneakers, Los Angles. The annual AIDS Walk is back and ready to get some steps in. The...

UPDATE: Ed Buck’s Court Hearing Set for Next Month

October 16, 2019

October 16, 2019

Political activist Ed Buck, who pleaded not guilty last week to federal drug charges in connection with two overdose deaths...

Edify TV: Westside Measles Exposure

October 15, 2019

October 15, 2019

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has announced that a person with measles visited several Westside businesses this...

PrEP Now Available Without Prescription in CA

October 14, 2019

October 14, 2019

Access to HIV prevention medications got a little easier. Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that would allow...

Everything You Need to Know About Tonight’s LGBTQ Town Hall w/ Democratic Presidential Candidates

October 10, 2019

October 10, 2019

It’s showtime, folks! Tonight is the LGBTQ Town Hall featuring Democratic presidential candidates answering all things queer. Human Rights Campaign...

California FAIR Plan For Fire Insurance Sees Massive Rate Increases

October 8, 2019

October 8, 2019

By Karl D. Susman The California FAIR Plan Association was created in July 1968 following a series of brush fires...

Ed Buck Arrested After Third Alleged Meth OD Victim Survives, Calls 911

September 18, 2019

September 18, 2019

LGBTQ political activist and prominent donor to the Democratic Party Ed Buck was arrested Tuesday, September 17 after a third alleged victim...

‘HIVE’ Mentality for Seniors Living with HIV/AIDS

September 18, 2019

September 18, 2019

Celebrate National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day.  Those in the LGBTQ+ community living in the late ‘80s to the early...

LGBTQ Youth Encouraged to Create Video Shorts for The Trevor Project

September 12, 2019

September 12, 2019

OUR PRIDE Video Fest announced a Call for Entries for videos about metal health, suicide prevention Calling all LGBTQ+ youth...

Lights. Camera. Representation!

September 9, 2019

September 9, 2019

The 26th annual QFilms Fest highlights the importance of showcasing an array of LGBTQ+ experiences through film.  By Jorge Paniagua...

Long Beach Welcomes 26th Annual QFilm Festival

September 4, 2019

September 4, 2019

This year, the festival dedicating short film program to LGBTQ+ Asian and Asian American experience. Long Beach’s historic Art Theatre...

LGBTQ+ Youth Cookin’ Up a Future

August 30, 2019

August 30, 2019

Cedars-Sinai awarded the Los Angeles LGBT Center a $159,973 grant for LGBTQ+ youth enrolled in a new intergenerational Culinary Arts program...

WeHo Mayor Speaks About Attack on Trans Folks at Las Perlas

August 28, 2019

August 28, 2019

 wave of backlash is sweeping social media as people learn about the transphobic and homophobic abuse that transpired at Las...