Disproportionate Drug Imprisonment Perpetuates the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in African American Communities



The U.S. inmate population increased by 700% between 1970 and 2005 (Austin, Naro, & Fabelo, 2007), mainly because correctional policies criminalize drug addiction. Almost one half of all prisoners are drug abusers (Karberg & James, 2002) despite evidence from molecular and imaging studies that addiction is a brain disorder with a strong genetic component (Chandler, Fletcher, & Volkow, 2009). The composition of prison admissions has shifted away from perpetrators of violent crimes towards less serious offenses such as parole violations and drug offenses (Clear, 2007). These offenses are largely responsible for the steep increases in the number of people who are incarcerated. Mauer (2006) notes that since there are no direct victims in drug selling and possession police rarely receive reports of these activities. Also, drug law enforcement is far more discretionary than for other offenses. The police decide when and where they will seek out people to arrest and most importantly what priority they will place on enforcing drug laws. Nearly six in ten persons in state prisons for a drug offense have no history of violence or significant selling activity. In 2005 four out of five drug arrests were for possession and only one out of five were for drug sales (Webb, 2007). States that have high numbers of drug arrests usually have higher incarceration rates (Mauer) and counties with burgeoning unemployment, persistent poverty and large percentages of African Americans have the highest incarceration rates for drug offenses (Beatty, Petteruti, & Ziedenberg, 2007).


African American Woman Methadone Maintenance Treatment African American Community Injection Drug User Drug Offense 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of HIV/AIDS PreventionCenters for Disease Control and PreventionAtlantaUSA

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