Hopkins Study Links Incarceration to Public Health Threats

New research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health finds that cycling individuals in and out of jails and prison contributes to the spread of HIV, Hepatitis and other public health threats.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

Although the study was global in its focus and did not examine individual nations, let alone cities, the findings could have important implications for Maryland, and particularly Baltimore, which has one of the highest rates of HIV infection among U.S. metro areas. Inmates from Baltimore make up more than a third of the state’s prison population.

Andrea Wirtz, a co-author of the study and assistant scientist at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the results were important, considering the racial and economic disparities in the jail and prison population from Baltimore.

“By having this disparity in imprisonment in the city, are we increasing peoples’ risk of HIV and other infectious diseases?” Wirtz said. “We can say this is part of the bigger picture of the HIV epidemic.”

Nearly 32,000 Marylanders were living with the disease in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of those reside in Baltimore — 12,435 that same year, according to the Baltimore City Health Department.

The researchers believe transmission of HIV within U.S. prisons is fairly low due to the availability of antiretroviral drugs there, but the risk of transmission rises once prisoners are released due to difficulties accessing continuing care.

Hepatitis C can spread through prison tattooing, the researchers found, and tuberculosis can thrive in unsanitary conditions in some correctional facilities.

The study authors said corrections officials ought to do more to improve how they combat the spread of infectious diseases, including offering condoms, needle exchanges and other services to address the public health issue.


The study was titled “Global burden of HIV, viral hepatitis, and tuberculosis in prisoners and detainees.” It was published July 17 in The Lancet.

Read The Baltimore Sun article for more information.