Incarcerated People Living with HIV: A Qualitative Exploration of Stigma

Health Soc Work. 2022 Oct 29;47(4):274-283. doi: 10.1093/hsw/hlac020.


Thousands of people living with HIV are incarcerated in the United States. Research about this vulnerable community has focused on access and adherence to medical care, including the impact of stigma on these treatment outcomes. This study presents qualitative data collected from 18 incarcerated and formerly incarcerated men and women living with HIV to expand knowledge about how HIV stigma shapes the lived experience of incarceration. The HIV Stigma Framework, including theory about enacted, anticipated, and internalized stigma, was used to analyze participants' narratives. Findings demonstrate an ongoing struggle with all three of these stigma mechanisms. Most participants deliberately concealed their HIV status and, therefore, experienced little enacted stigma. However, their narratives do describe anticipated stigma and, to a lesser extent, internalized stigma. There were gender differences in HIV disclosure and symbolic stigma and intersectionality are used to understand this variation. These findings illustrate the persistence of HIV stigma in correctional institutions and underscore the importance of fighting HIV stigma and homophobia within social work practice.

Keywords: HIV; gender; incarceration; stigma.

MeSH terms

  • Correctional Facilities
  • Female
  • HIV Infections*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prisoners*
  • Social Stigma
  • United States