Since 1989, at least 108 people have been charged with an HIV-related crime in Arkansas, according to a new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. HIV-related crimes in the state are disproportionately enforced based on gender and race with Black men particularly overrepresented in HIV-related crimes.
Black men make up 7% of the state’s population, 31% of people living with HIV, and 44% of HIV-related arrests. In addition, of the 14 people currently on Arkansas’ sex offender registry for an HIV-related conviction, half are Black men, though they make up only 22% of the overall population on the registry.
Researchers analyzed data obtained from the Arkansas Crime Information Center and the Information Network of Arkansas, which provides data on the state’s sex offender registry and Department of Corrections. Findings show that enforcement of HIV criminal laws is highly concentrated by geography—18% of all HIV-related arrests originated with the Little Rock Police Department.
HIV criminalization is a term used to describe laws that either criminalize otherwise legal conduct or increase the penalties for illegal conduct based upon a person’s HIV-positive status. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. states and territories currently have laws that criminalize people living with HIV.
Arkansas has two HIV-specific criminal laws. The first makes it a felony for a person who knows of their HIV-positive status to expose another person to HIV through sexual contact or other means. The maximum sentence for an exposure conviction is 30 years and may include a fine up to $15,000 and registration on the state’s sex offender registry. The second law requires a person living with HIV in Arkansas to inform their doctor or dentist before receiving treatment. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor.
In many states, women—and most commonly Black women—are disproportionately affected by HIV criminal laws, however, those states have HIV criminal laws that focus specifically on sex workers. In Arkansas, men account for 83% of HIV-related arrests and 85% of HIV-related convictions.
Arkansas’ first HIV criminal law was enacted in 1989. Arkansas’ HIV criminal laws do not require actual transmission of HIV, the intent to transmit, or even conduct that can transmit HIV.
“Arkansas fits into a broader pattern of HIV criminalization,” said study author Nathan Cisneros, HIV Criminalization Project Director at the Williams Institute. “Most of these laws were written at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and early 1990s before we had effective treatments for HIV. We now have treatments to wholly eliminate the risk of transmitting HIV through sex, yet these advances are not reflected in Arkansas law.”
- HIV criminal arrests continue to the present day, with the latest arrest in 2022—the latest year data was available.
- Black people are disproportionately arrested for HIV-related crimes in Arkansas.
- Black people were 48% of all HIV-related arrests, but only 15% of the state’s population, and 43% of people living with HIV in the state.
- Enforcement of HIV crimes was concentrated in a few counties.
- Pulaski County originated one-third of all HIV-related arrests, followed by Sebastian County with 12% of arrests, and Miller County with 5% of arrests.
- In contrast, most counties in Arkansas had one or no arrests.
- Four in five arrests (80%) that proceeded to the prosecution phase resulted in a guilty outcome.
- Twenty-one people in Arkansas Department of Corrections (DOC) custody in 2007 and 2023 had HIV-related convictions mandating a sentence:
- The average sentence per count for the HIV-related conviction was 24 years.
- Four people only had HIV-related convictions; they had no other current or prior convictions.
- Black men were 57% of all people with an HIV-related DOC sentence, compared to 38% of all people in DOC custody.
This report is part of a series of reports examining the ongoing impact of state HIV criminalization laws on people living with HIV.