This may seem a little weird, but scientists have found that reducing the number of men in prison could limit the spread of HIV and many other sexually-transmitted diseases in a community. Scientists at the University of Michigan said reducing incarceration in a community brings down the number of sexual partners men and women have. It has a direct impact on the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases like HIV.
Why do these studies focus on men?
Findings of the study were published in Social Science & Medicine. Lead author Andrea Knittel said, “Removing men and returning them to the community frequently can increase the number of sexual partners that both men and women have in the community.” Most studies focus on men because men are imprisoned far more often than women. For instance, 954 men were jailed per 100,000 residents in 2009, compared to just 68 women per 100,000 residents.
Incarceration increases the number of sexual partners, partially due to changes in the way formerly incarcerated men see women, and the way women see them. Longer and harsher sentences make the effects worse, found the study. Men who have spent time behind the bars are likely to experience major changes in their sexual behavior upon release. It directly affects the way men and women interact sexually.
To conduct the study, scientists developed an “agent” based model, a computer simulation that creates a community where 250 “agents” or simulated people can date and have sexual relationships. First, they ran the simulation without incarceration to find out the number of sexual partners men and women in the community would have. Then they ran it with incarceration to see the number of sexual partners men and women have.
Past studies have linked high incarceration levels in a community with higher rates of HIV infection. Researchers have also found a connection between jail time and risky sexual behavior. Knittel said results of their study showed that reducing incarceration reduces instability of partnerships for men.