Seminar: HIV and AIDS in English and Irish prisons: a policy overview

Virginia Berridge and Janet Weston
(Centre for History in Public Health, LSHTM)

The emergence of HIV and AIDS in the 1980s presented unexpected challenges to governments around the world, prompting urgent debate about the role of the state in protecting the health of its citizens. Quarantines, national surveillance, mandatory testing, large-scale health education initiatives, and the (de)criminalisation of behaviours associated with HIV infection were just a few of the issues that were raised. For prisons, which were quickly identified as high prevalence and high risk environments for HIV and AIDS, such concerns were magnified and distorted. Health promotion and medical interventions were not their first priority, but how far should prisons go, in the shadow of a new and deadly epidemic, to protect the lives of their residents? Policies regarding HIV antibody testing, the management and care of prisoners identified as having HIV or AIDS, and access to condoms, counselling, sterile injecting equipment, and addiction treatment for all inmates were potentially in need of resolution.

This paper will consider the development of such policies in the Republic of Ireland, and England & Wales. A comparison of the process of policy formation, and the nature of the policies adopted by the Irish Prison Service (IPS) and Her Majesty’s Prison Service for England and Wales (HMPS), reveals the extent to which issues prompted by HIV and AIDS reflected long-standing and nationally specific contexts and concerns. Policy making for HMPS moved relatively quickly over matters of education and segregation, but struggled with the provision of condoms to prisoners. On a practical level, though, the extent of decentralisation and the independence of doctors meant that individual prisons had considerable scope to respond in markedly different ways to official policy positions. The IPS, in contrast, was still segregating some prisoners with HIV or AIDS in 1995, and issues relating to the treatment of drug addiction dominated, reflecting long-standing penal cultures and perceptions of HIV and AIDS in Ireland. In both cases, however, HIV prompted change and coincided with greater co-operation and openness on the part of prison systems with outside agencies and expertise.

Thursday, 5th October 2017, 12.45 pm – 2.00 pm
Venue: LG9, Keppel Street Building