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HIV Spreads Slower when Men Stay out of Prison, Study Says

Update Date: Feb 10, 2016 10:39 AM EST

Keeping men out of prison can slow down the rate of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) within a community, a new study is reporting.

For this study, the research team at the University of Michigan created a computer model to analyze how incarceration - specifically in men - affects the number of sexual partners that men and women might have. The team decided to focus only on male incarceration because men tend to get sentenced to jail more frequently than women.

The researchers created a model community that included 250 "agents" who date and engage in sexual relationships. They then ran several simulations.

In the first simulation, they did not include male incarceration to see how many sexual partners the agents would have normally. In the second simulation, they increased the number of male incarcerations and found that it led to an increase in the number of sexual partners for male and female agents who were not incarcerated.

In another simulation, the researchers increased the length of the prison sentence and found that male and female agents had even more sexual partners when compared to the numbers from the second simulation.

"Our model showed that high levels of incarceration likely play a role in community-level sexual behavior, and are likely detrimental in terms of sexual risk for HIV and other STDs," said researcher Dr. Andrea Knittel reported in the press release. "The results suggest that reducing incarceration and creating a more open criminal justice system that supports the maintenance of inmates' relationships to reduce instability of partnerships for men who are incarcerated may have important sexual health and public health implications."

Dr. Knittel added, "The methods are interesting and unique, and offer a digital petri dish in which experiments that would be impossible in the real world are absolutely doable. The results from computational models can never be applied thoughtlessly to the real world, but are thought-provoking and demonstrate what is possible."

The study was published in Social Science & Medicine.

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