Black-White Disparities in HIV/AIDS: The Role of Drug Policy and the Corrections System

African Americans in the United States are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. We focus in this paper on the structural and contextual sources of HIV/AIDS risk, and suggest that among the most important of these sources are drug policy and the corrections system. In particular, high rates of exposure to the corrections system (including incarceration, probation, and parole) spurred in large part by federal and state governments' self-styled war on drugs in the United States, have disproportionately affected African Americans. We review a wide range of research literature to suggest how exposure to the corrections system may affect the HIV/AIDS related risks of drug users in general, and the disproportionate HIV risk faced by African Americans in particular. We then discuss the implications of the information reviewed for structural interventions to address African American HIV-related risk. Future research must further our understanding of the relations among drug policy, corrections, and race-based disparities in HIV/AIDS.