On World AIDS Day, CHLP, in collaboration with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and The Human Rights Campaign, released a video and guide to raise awareness about the harms of HIV criminal laws.
The video is a short piece about what these laws do, whom they target, and how they cause harm without any perceptible benefit.
A companion guide to the video, A Grassroots Guide to HIV Criminalization: Facts, Foolishness, and Solutions offers a more in-depth analysis and provides pro-active means and solutions to modernizing HIV exposure laws throughout the country. All PJP members and their allies should checkout the video and the guide! It is a useful organizing tool and primer.
On World AIDS Day, December 1, 2015, the White House Office of National AIDS Policy released the anxiously awaited Federal Action Plan (“the Plan”) for implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States: Updated to 2020. As is often the case, there is good news as well as some major disappointments. Several months ago, CHLP was joined by 80 other organizations and activists in a set of recommended action steps that fell into four categories:
CHLP will soon release a detailed assessment of where the Plan hits the mark, where it came close, and where it didn’t even bother to aim in terms of our recommended actions in these four areas. In the meantime, here are some highlights:
- Addressing Broad Public Ignorance About HIV, STIs and Stigmatized Identities
- Addressing the Criminalization of HIV
- Addressing the Treatment of People Living With or at Risk of HIV in Criminal Justice and Immigration Detention Facilities and in the Military
- Addressing the Need for Focused Prevention and Health Services For Sex Workers and People Who Inject Drugs, and for Reform of Policies that Are Barriers To Service Access
- The Federal Action Plan explicitly recognizes that “Addressing discrimination is a critical factor in achieving health equity…” One important aspect of the Plan is its recognition that stigma and discrimination exist across a range of areas including employment and housing and healthcare.
- The EEOC’s commitment to develop and release technical assistance guidance for applicants and employers on rights and responsibilities in employment is a welcome, concrete illustration of that. Likewise, HUD’s commitment to, “identify homeless persons living with HIV and link them to housing assistance, medical care, and other services,” and their commitment to, “work closely with HIV housing providers and stakeholder groups to identify barriers to reporting housing discrimination because of HIV, and better identify the realities of housing discrimination because of HIV in communities across the nation is a measure that warrants praise as well as monitoring. The Office of Civil Rights’ (of the Department of Health and Human Services) continuing commitment to provide technical assistance regarding privacy of protected health information, including development and dissemination of a report on best practices for hospitals, is of everyday importance to people affected by HIV.
- On the criminal justice front, the Department of Justice adopted our ask to “distribute its Best Practices Guide to Reform HIV-Specific Criminal Laws to Align with Scientifically Supported Factors to all State Attorneys General, with a cover letter alerting them to its purpose and contents.” However, DOJ stopped short of any commitment to monitor or proactively follow up with states, such as Missouri and Ohio, where there are significant HIV-specific prosecutions and patterns of severe sentences. While the distribution of the Best Practices is a welcome (if long overdue) step, it is not enough if we are serious about the need to end more decades-long sentences of people on the basis of their health status. Much as HUD has committed to work directly with housing providers in states to identify and eliminate barriers, DOJ should reconsider its “sharing information and then all hands-off” approach.
- Under the new Plan, the CDC and DOJ also will, “continue to monitor state HIV-specific criminal statutes and develop a fact sheet that provides the most current science, current information on state statues, and the potential impact on HIV outcomes. The last part of this commitment – resources that chart the impact of criminal laws and prosecutions on HIV outcomes – could prove extremely helpful for advocacy efforts with our communities, policy makers and legislators, for whom a far broader, more aggressive plan for education on the laws and their real meaning is desperately needed.
- One very encouraging commitment in the plan – one that we have pushed for for years – is increased commitments to STI screening and sexual health, including creation of a creative new online HIV Risk Reduction Education tool that provides current risk information on an array of risk factors from type of sex to use of PrEP or a condom to whether either party has an STI, all based on the most recent scientific findings. The tool was just launched mid-December 2015. While we wish terms such as “high risk” were not used (inaccurately) to describe something that only happens on average 138 out of 10,000 times, and that the CDC would lose comments like “the best way to avoid HIV is to not have sex,” it is a potentially great tool – and one that, finally, describes the risk of oral sex as “little or no risk.”
- Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the Plan is what is completely missing. Despite the fact that both the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Defense are designated participants in the federal interagency task force charged with the Plans’ implementation, the Plan itself requires absolutely nothing of either agency. It is indeed long past time for the Department of Defense to step forward and end its unsupportable ban on those with HIV from enlistment and appointment to the military academies, and its continued issuance of “safe sex” orders as a predicate to prosecutions, imprisonments and discharge from service. These policies are scientifically unsupportable, cannot be justified by military readiness and only feed myths, fears and stereotypes about those with HIV. Similarly, the absence of a directive to the BOP on development of a plan for sexual health care and literacy that includes access to prevention technologies, or on elimination of antiquated policies such as involuntary testing of inmates and segregation of those posing a supposed “risk” to the general population tacitly reinforces these policies.
- It is way past time to call for fully fund syringe exchange and broad de-criminalization of syringe possession. The ban on needle exchange funding and criminalization of syringes and the direct and lasting harm they cause cannot be justified and should not be tolerated. It also is long past time for a new approach for addressing sex workers that doesn’t begin and end with criminalization.
- And finally, it is most certainly time for the President to call for an end to all HIV criminalization laws, and to direct those who represent the administration on all aspects of the public’s health to put that call into specific, affirmative action.
State Advocacy Working Group UpdatesCALIFORNIA
Californians for HIV Criminalization Reform
is the latest iteration of a PJP group launched two years ago to develop recommendations for modernizing California's HIV criminal law provisions. The effort initially was launched when California U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, who has worked tirelessly to tackle HIV criminalization for years at the federal level, determined that equality begins at home, and reached out to CHLP for guidance on current law and what improvements might be possible. The expanded statewide group of CA-based advocates now taking the lead on this work hopes to introduce a bill during the next legislative session that begins in January 2016.
Members of the coalition include: AIDS Project Los Angeles; Los Angeles LGBT Center; Williams Institute; LA HIV Law and Policy Project; Free Speech Coalition; ACLU of California; Health Officers Association of California; Equality California; Lambda Legal; Positive Women's Network; Transgender Law Center; Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Sex Workers Outreach Project; and Sex Workers and Erotic Service Provider Legal, Educational, and Research Project. The coalition has hosted several community forums across the state and is planning other educational events in the near future. Most recently, at the request of the Californians for HIV Criminalization Reform, CHLP staff Mayo Schreiber, Allison Nichol and Catherine Hanssens developed a set of detailed revisions and recommendations on the draft modernization bill the local group is hoping to move in spring 2016. On World AIDS Day, the Williams Institute and California HIV/AIDS Research Program
released a report that analyzes data obtained from the California Department of Justice on the criminal history of all individuals who have had contact with the criminal justice system under four of the state’s HIV-related criminal laws. Key findings from the report include:
If you are interested in joining Californians for HIV Criminalization Reform, please contact Craig Pulsipher at [email protected].
- Nearly every incident in which charges were brought resulted in a conviction (389 out of 390 incidents). Among those with known sentences at the time of conviction, 91 percent were sent to prison or jail for an average of 27 months.
- The vast majority of these incidents (95 percent) involved sex work. The law that criminalizes sex workers living with HIV does not require intent to transmit HIV or exposure to HIV.
- Women made up 43 percent of those who came into contact with the criminal justice system based on their HIV-positive status.
- Black people and Latino/as make up two-thirds (67 percent) of those who came into contact based on charges of these crimes.
- Across all HIV-related crimes, white men were significantly more likely to be released and not charged (in 60 percent of their HIV-specific criminal incidents) than expected. Black men (36 percent), black women (43 percent) and white women (39 percent) were significantly less likely to be released and not charged.
- While the average age at the time of arrest for the first HIV-related incident was 37, the arrestees ranged from 14 to 71 years old.
- Nearly half (48 percent) of these incidents occurred in Los Angeles County. By contrast, 37 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS in California have lived in Los Angeles County.
Early in November, Colorado advocates attended the Advocacy Institute for People Living with HIV/AIDS and their Allies, hosted by the CO Mod Squad, Colorado Organizations Responding to AIDS (CORA) and PWN USA CO. Among topics discussed were science based prevention of HIV transmission, CO laws and how they affect PLHIV, strategy for modernization in Colorado, developing a common message for the Colorado Campaign on Modernizing HIV/STI laws, and Language, HIV and stigma based on PWN USA's work #StandUpToStigma.
The CO Mod Squad has been working on a draft bill to be submitted to the legislature for the 2016 session. The foundation of that bill is work that Barb Cardell and Minday Barton prepared earlier this year, inspired by an approach suggested by CHLP Founder Catherine Hanssens, to repeal the existing felony statutes and to include HIV, and better due process protections, in the Department of Health codes for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
First, a small group of CO Mod Squad members met and did an initial review of the STI codes, inserting language and ideas developed at the Advocacy Institute, producing an impressive first draft. Then, Lauren Fanning, Senior Community Outreach Specialist, CHLP/Positive Justice Project, joined with Barb and several other members of The CO Mod Squad, adding her two cents to the Squad's blending of STI and HIV codes to help modernize language and concepts. The proposal was submitted to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. They will hold public meetings to discuss the draft on December 30 and January 4.
Go Mod Squad!!
Meetings are the 4th Tuesday of the month.
If you are interested in information about HIV criminalization or actively participating in the Colorado working group, please contact
Barb Cardell at [email protected].
The GA working group held their regular meeting on December 9. Members of the working group are working to secure support from the Governor’s office for modernization of the law. The group completed a streamlined draft of a modernization proposal and now is in the process of scheduling a meeting of working group representatives with the Governor's staff to discuss the proposal and seek support.
Next Meeting: January 13 at 4:00pm (ET)
If you would like information on HIV Criminalization or are interested in becoming an advocate with the Georgia HIV Criminalization Working Group, please contact Stephen Williams at [email protected].
Bryan Jones, with assistance from other PJP members, arranged a well attended meeting of the Ohio working group in Cleveland on November 9. Thank you to Stacy Soria, Recovery Resources Manager of the HIV Prevention Program, for graciously hosting the meeting. There were 18 Ohio advocates in attendance led by people living with HIV and including Planned Parenthood, AIDS Funding Collaborative, two Cleveland infectious disease physicians, two attorneys, Silver Creek Strategies, and staff of Recovery Resources, plus Allison Nichol, CHLP Co-Director and Lauren Fanning, CHLP Senior Community Outreach Specialist.
The meeting covered the PJP Guiding Principles, Routes, Risks and Realities of HIV Transmission and Care: Current Scientific Knowledge and Medical Treatment, the current Ohio laws, the role of the Ohio Criminal Justice Recodification Committee, and an overview of the process and timeline for changing the law in Ohio.
Some of the members of the group sent a letter to the members of the OCJRC, who are on sub-committees reviewing the HIV-related laws, expressing their concerns about the current law, how it does not comport with the science of HIV transmission, it singles out individuals living with HIV. On December 14 the working group held a conference call where the focus of the discussion was around specific ways to change the HIV Laws in Ohio. This discussion will continue in January.
Next Meeting: The working group is in the process of setting up a regular monthly meeting day and time. It is likely to be the 2nd Monday of the month at 4:30PM (ET). An announcement will be made as soon as it is final.
If you are interested in information about HIV criminalization or actively participating in the Ohio working group, please contact Stephen Williams at [email protected].
Over the course of the last few meetings the TN working group members discussed Best Practices Guide to Reform HIV-Specific Criminal Laws to Align with Scientifically-Supported Factors with CHLP Co-Director Allison Nichol. Members asked for a sub-group to come up with recommendations for changing the existing laws based upon the PJP Guiding Principles and the DOJ Best Practices. Brady Morris and Larry Frampton volunteered to do so with assistance from Lauren Fanning, PJP Senior Community Outreach Specialist. After discussion of those points, the group asked CHLP Managing Director Mayo Schreiber to review the list of changes and offer advice on language to be used for creating a draft bill and developing talking points, which were discussed at the December meeting.
Meanwhile, Scotty Campbell, Director of Public Policy of Nashville Cares, has been having conversations around the state with individuals and agencies about modernizing the laws and reports that those discussions have been very well received. At the next meeting, in addition to discussing feedback from CHLP, the group will brainstorm about others to be included in these conversations (key individuals, organizations, legislators, and policy makers) and a timeline for reaching out to them.
Next Meeting: January 28th at 11:00 am (CT)
If you are interested in information about HIV criminalization or actively participating in the Tennessee working group, please contact Stephen Williams at [email protected].
CHLP assists criminal defense attorneys in HIV exposure/transmission cases. We are providing help in cases in Missouri, Florida, Indiana, New York, Ohio and Oklahoma. Among the cases we currently are involved in are the Michael Johnson and Nushawn Williams cases in Missouri and New York.
Our assistance includes counseling defendants and their families, referring defendants to attorneys, providing legal and trial strategy advice to defense attorneys, referring medical and scientific experts, drafting sections of court submissions, and submitting amicus briefs.
If you are aware of anyone charged in an HIV exposure or transmission case, please refer them to our website, www.hivlawandpolicy.org and/or have them or their lawyer contact CHLP (212-430-6733) for assistance.
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