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Janet Weston

As the AIDS crisis emerged, prisons were quickly identified as possible ‘reservoirs of infection’, where injecting drug use, sex between men, violence, and poor hygiene might all contribute towards the spread of HIV. Some countries moved to introduce punitive or restrictive measures within their prisons, while researchers and international bodies hastened to promote an alternative approach, based on voluntarism, education, and harm reduction. This tried to acknowledge prisoners’ rights and to position prisons as an integral part of the wider community, and by the early 1990s some regions saw innovations such as methadone treatment and needle exchanges established within their prisons.

This chapter reviews and begins to explain the different ways in which countries around Europe responded to HIV/AIDS in their prison systems. The size of a nation’s prison population and the extent of injecting drug use were both important factors in determining national response, as were pre-existing structures of prison healthcare provision and attitudes towards both homosexuality and crime. Responses in prisons were also closely affiliated to responses in the wider community – perhaps to a greater extent than campaigners calling for greater parity were prepared to recognise. It then compares policies and developments in the Republic of Ireland and Switzerland to explore different forms of activism, with different outcomes. Using international evaluations and research from the 1980s and 1990s, national policy documents, and oral histories, this chapter also raises questions about the kind of activism surrounding HIV/AIDS that is remembered.

in Histories of HIV/AIDS in Western Europe