Cutting prison sentences can reduce HIV spread: Study

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New York, Feb 10 (IANS) Reducing the number of men who go to prison could help curb the spread of HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections in a community, says a study.

According to researchers at the University of Michigan in the US, reducing incarceration in a community may also reduce the number of sexual partners’ men and women have, therefore reducing the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

“The model shows that simply removing men and returning them to the community frequently can increase the number of sexual partners that both men and women have in the community,” said lead author Andrea Knittel from the University of California, San Francisco.

“It supports the assertion that mass incarceration has complicated and far-reaching unintended consequences, and may have significant public health implications,” Knittel added.

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The study, published in Social Science and Medicine, shows high rates of incarceration of men increase the number of sexual partners for both men and women in a community.

In the study, the team developed an agent-based model — a computer simulation that creates a small community in which 250 “agents” or simulated people can date and have sexual relationships.

The team ran the simulation without incarceration to see how many sexual partners men and women in the community would have. They then ran it again with incarceration to see what would happen.

Data from other studies show that when men are incarcerated they have a slightly higher risk of ending a relationship and become slightly less desirable as partners.

In the simulation, incarceration increased the number of sexual partners for both the male and female agents.

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In addition, when the average sentence length was increased, the differences were more pronounced, suggesting that harsher or longer penalties might exacerbate the effect of incarceration, the study found.

“The results suggest that reducing incarceration and creating a more open criminal justice system that supports the maintenance of inmates’ relationships to reduce instability of partnerships for men who are incarcerated may have important sexual health and public health implications,” Knittel noted.

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