Women in New York State prisons want more peer-based services and increased confidentiality in regards to their health information, according to HIV-specific findings of a report released by the Women in Prison Project at the Correctional Association of New York (CA).

Titled HIV Services for Women in New York State Prisons, the report is part of a five-year study on the state of reproductive health care for women in New York State prisons.

According to a CA press release, the report’s key finding are:

  • Women have access to HIV services but stigma, discrimination and a lack of confidentiality remain serious barriers for incarcerated women in accessing these services.

  • More work is needed to confirm the number of HIV-positive women in the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and create conditions under which incarcerated women feel comfortable revealing their HIV status.

  • DOCCS does a solid job offering HIV testing to women, but there is room for improvement.

  • Women have access to valuable HIV peer education services but the quality of HIV information that women receive needs improvement.
Based on these findings, the report’s main recommendations include:
  • Provide security and civilian staff with comprehensive training on HIV and working with people living with HIV.

  • Offer HIV testing to all women entering DOCCS custody.

  • Provide more funding to expand the role of trained peer educators in HIV programs and all other programs in DOCCS. Make HIV services, and all other services in DOCCS trauma-informed.

  • Improve the quality of HIV information available to women, and ensure that information is up-to-date and in formats accessible for women with low literacy skills and women who are not fluent in English.
“Stigma silences and hurts women,” said the report’s co-author, Andrea B. Williams, program director of the CA’s Reconnect Program, in the press release. She added that incarcerated women “continue to make the decision to hold back even their general HIV health questions rather than subject themselves to possible ridicule and isolation.”

To read more about HIV peer education, in and out of prison, read the recent POZ cover story titled “Straight Talk.”