New study shows who is impacted by Florida’s HIV criminalization laws

For Immediate Release
October 2, 2018

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Rachel Dowd
dowd@law.ucla.edu
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White women and Black women are disproportionately affected by the laws.

Florida laws that criminalize people living with HIV directly affected 614 people from 1986 to 2017, according to a new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. Researchers found that women were disproportionately affected by HIV criminalization. White women were disproportionately arrested for HIV offenses in Florida, and Black women were the group most likely to be convicted for HIV offenses related to sex work.

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. More than two-thirds of U.S. states and territories have enacted HIV criminal laws.

“Our study shows that certain communities, whether defined by gender, race/ethnicity, or sex worker status, are bearing more of the weight of these laws,” said lead author Amira Hasenbush, the Jim Kepner Law and Public Policy Fellow at the Williams Institute. “What’s more, these HIV criminal laws, which were originally intended to control the spread of HIV by prosecuting individuals who expose others, don’t require proof of transmission or even exposure in most cases. So the laws are not doing what they set out to do.”

Key findings

  • Individuals were arrested under HIV-related statutes in 47 out of the 67 counties in Florida. The highest prevalence of HIV in the state is found in Miami-Dade (24%) and Broward Counties (18%), but those counties represent only 4% and 3%, respectively, of the HIV-related arrests. On the other hand, Duval County is home to only 6% of the people living with HIV in Florida, but 23% of all HIV-related arrests in the state.
  • Over half (56%) of all individuals arrested under an HIV-related offense were women. As a point of comparison, in 2017, 27% of people living with HIV in Florida were women.
  • More than four in ten people arrested under an HIV-related offense were Black (43%), and none of the people arrested were recorded as Latino/a.
  • When considering the demographics of people living with HIV in Florida, White women were more likely to be arrested for an HIV-criminal offense than other groups. They made up only 4% of the population of people diagnosed with HIV in Florida, but they were 39% of HIV-related arrests in the state.
  • In HIV offenses involving sex work, Black women were significantly more likely to be convicted for the disease-specific offense and significantly less likely to be released without a conviction than all other groups.
  • Black men were more likely to be convicted of an HIV-related offense than White men and White women.
  • Convictions for HIV arrests were twice as likely when there was a concurrent sex work arrest than when the HIV offense occurred outside of the context of sex work.

The study analyzed data obtained from the Criminal Justice Information Services at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on the criminal history of all individuals who have had contact with the criminal justice system under six of the state’s HIV-related criminal laws. These data record any contacts an individual may have had with the criminal justice system, from arrest through conviction and sentencing, to provide a full chronological record of how these laws are being used.

Read the report.

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