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Caplan: Winning the War Against AIDS Means Fighting the Fight in Prisons, Too.

On this World AIDS Day, Arthur Caplan reminds us in his MSNBC column that there have been many forward strides in the fight against HIV/AIDS but where we have clearly failed is dealing with HIV/AIDS in our prison population. In general, health care in many prisons is not up to snuff in places like California due to, as the recent court battles in the Supreme Court suggest, overcrowding and insufficient resource.


But more than that, as Caplan notes, “prisons are disease incubators” for other reasons such as poor hygiene, risky sexual contact, drug use and more. 2% of US prisoners have HIV and another 20% of those with HIV pass through our correctional system, says Caplan.

But why should we care about law-breakers, felons and criminals of various kinds who have HIV? If you don’t buy into human rights arguments, you can look at it from a more self-interested point of view. Most prisoners are not incarcerated for life and unless they are tested and treated for HIV while in the system, most will never know they have it and continue to spread mutated, more virulent strains of HIV from prisons around the country. Protect a prisoner, protect yourself–that is more or less Caplan’s claim. Perhaps not the most humanitarian formulation of an argument for prisoner’s access to HIV/AIDS screening and treatment, but right just the same.

To read his entire argument, click here to go to

Summer McGee, PhD

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