Examination of State Laws Impacting STIs and the Criminal Justice System

The public health issue: Criminal justice-involved communities experience higher rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) compared to the general population. Many social conditions associated with criminal justice involvement overlap with those associated with high STI rates. For example, communities with disproportionate numbers of individuals moving in and out of custody, such as black men, are more likely to experience factors associated with neighborhood destabilization, gender ratio imbalances and disrupted sexual networks.

In addition, laws and policies create collateral consequences for released offenders, such as heightened stigma, financial and housing insecurity, loss of medical insurance, and absence of socially supportive relationships, which are also associated with high rates of STIs.

Our contribution to the solution: With funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PHMC’s Research & Evaluation Group is working with legal researchers from the National Nursing Centers Consortium to examine the relationship between STI rates in criminal justice populations and the law. The study involves a 50-state assessment of laws, including state sentencing guidelines and collateral consequences, that may impact a person’s employment, access to government health benefits, and housing. The collaboration also develops a state-level legal index that will allow for analysis of the differential impact of state laws and local policies on STI rates. Our team is also conducting qualitative research examining STI prevention policies in – and re-entry support provided by – jails and prisons in eight U.S. counties. This data will contribute to a better understanding of the complex interplay between laws and policies impacting incarceration-involved individuals and STI prevention within their communities. Furthermore, this work will provide a research framework for continued examination of the impact of state laws on the health of criminal justice-involved populations.