17 May 2004
Round-table on HIV-AIDS and Prisons during the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice
VIENNA, 17 May (UN Information Service) -- The rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in prisons, and practical measures to curb the spread of the disease in this section of society was the subject of a round table organized today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and attended by high-level international experts.
The round table took place as a side event during the 13th session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, currently underway in Vienna. Today, the Commission discussed the use and application of United Nations standards and norms in crime prevention and criminal justice. The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on HIV/AIDS in Russia and Central Asia, Lars Kallings, addressed the Commission this morning.
Existing evidence indicates that the rates of HIV-infection among prison inmates in some countries are significantly higher than in the general population. Some prisoners had been infected outside the institution and then been incarcerated, but a large number have been infected inside the prisons. The infection rates have reached levels as high as 20 per cent in Europe or even over 50 per cent in parts of the developing world. Overcrowding, hierarchical homosexual relations, gangs within prisons, lack of protection for the youngest and weakest and poor prison management create an environment, which increases vulnerability to HIV transmission among the inmates (e.g. through unsafe sexual practices, sharing of injecting equipment or other crude substitutes, tattooing, violence including rape and blood exposure in general).
Elaborating an effective policy to prevent HIV/AIDS inside correctional settings is often hampered by the denial of prison authorities of the existence of these contextual factors. However, these factors are almost always present in such settings. While some institutions have been dealing with these issues in a pragmatic way (e.g. through the provision of condoms, needle dispensers, bleaching liquid, drug substitution therapy), only a few provide for antiretroviral treatment to HIV infected inmates. Perhaps even more important, measures are needed to address overcrowding and to curb violence and gang pressure within the prisons.
The experts discussed possible strategies to improve the understanding of the nature of the HIV/AIDS problem in prisons and to improve the capacity of national prison systems to reduce the HIV vulnerability of prisoners and thus the transmission of HIV among prisoners, guards, inmates families and the entire community.
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