The Phoenix Flyer

Florida prisons detain the highest number of HIV-positive people in the nation

By: - June 4, 2023 7:37 am

Florida’s prison population ranks third in the nation. Credit: Florida Department of Corrections

Florida’s state and federal correctional institutions hold the most prisoners in the country living with HIV, and also the highest percentage with HIV, of any prison system in the country. That’s according to a report compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice as documented in a new study from the Prison Policy Initiative.

The report shows that as of the end of 2021, the seven states with the country’s highest rates of HIV-infected inmates are mostly in the South, led by Florida with 2.8%. Mississippi, Louisiana, Maryland, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina were the next highest. Overall, the state had 1,800 HIV-positive people in prison in 2021.

There were 120,502 people living with HIV in Florida in 2021, according to the Florida Deptartment of Health.

Florida is one of 35 states with laws on the books criminalizing HIV exposure. The Prison Policy Initiative report notes that at least 154 people were imprisoned for HIV-related offenses between 1997 to 2020.

Meanwhile, STAT, a health-oriented website, listed Florida in December as one of the eight worst states in the nation when it comes to treating hepatitis C in prison. The authors of that report wrote that hepatitis C was the cause of death for at least 130 people in Florida prisons from 2014 to 2019. STAT notes that the large number of prison deaths from hepatitis C is due in part to Florida housing the third largest prison population in the country.

In 2017, the Florida Justice Institute filed a federal class action against the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) for failing to provide medications to three inmates with hepatitis C.  The federal judge overlooking the case said the agency had a “long and sordid history of failing to treat HCV (Hepatitis C virus) – infected inmates.” In 2019, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ordered the department to implement a plan to test, monitor, and treat people with hepatitis C.

The FDC appealed that ruling, and in 2020 a three-judge panel with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit sided with the department, saying the state was not required to offer treatment to prisoners in the early stages of the disease.

The Phoenix reached out to the FDC on Friday afternoon to learn the current status regarding the testing of inmates for hepatitis C. We have yet to receive a response.

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.