One of the arguments you bring up in your book is that a lot of these HIV criminalization laws that we live with now were never really, when they were written, they were framed as fighting HIV, but they came from a place of “morality” rather than trying to combat the spread of the virus.
Definitely. So that’s one of the points that I’ve been making in my research is that from day one, criminal justice officials and police have been lobbying for these laws on the basis that they wanted to punish people living with HIV. In particular, in the early days, police were very frustrated with prostitutes who were living with HIV who they couldn’t put behind bars for more than a couple of months because prostitution was a misdemeanor.
So they were seeking a felony penalty so they could keep these mostly women behind bars for longer periods of time. Then it transitioned from a kind of fear of sex work to a fear of gay sex and homophobia. It’s never been about public health. It’s always been about punishment and irrational fears — using punishment to police irrational fears of HIV.
When AIDS hit in the 1980s, the people that were most likely to be affected were people who Americans thought were already criminals — drug users, prostitutes, homosexuals. Highly denigrated groups of people whose behaviors were thoroughly criminalized under existing law already. It wasn’t a stretch to move from blaming these groups from spreading the disease to calling for them to be punished using the criminal law.