This article describes the areas of concern surrounding the continued implementation HIV-specific criminal laws and sentence enhancements. The authors refer to research on the harmful effects these laws can have on individual behavior as well as public health efforts. They conclude that the United States needs a focused research agenda to collect evidence to support efforts of policymakers considering the repeal or modernization of HIV-specific laws. They call for immediate policy interventions to assist public health and criminal justice officials to fairly apply these laws so that they focus only on intentional harms. Throughout the article the authors provide suggestions to help address these needs.
The authors suggest the use of epidemiological evidence regarding transmission risks to ensure that only those behaviors that pose a significant risk are prohibited. Recommended areas of study include the relationship between public health efforts and HIV-specific laws, patterns of discrimination in enforcement, costs of implementation, current use of alternative legal measures to prevent transmission, and the use of science in the courtroom. The authors note that empirical data alone will not help to reshape the public view on HIV criminalization or the ethical discourse surrounding rights and responsibilities of people with HIV. Hence, they also call for the use of harm reduction strategies, including the creation of guidelines and other model policies or protocols that incorporate the voices of people with HIV, advocates, and public health professionals. In particular, they stress the need for prosecutorial guidelines that will help limit prosecutions and ensure that laws are applied fairly, as well as guidelines on how health department officials can intervene with criminal justice officials to reduce the use of these laws in situations that pose minimal to no risk of HIV transmission.