Background: Women involved in the criminal justice system in the United States have high rates of sexually transmitted infections (STI). It is unknown whether criminal justice involvement is a marker for other risk behavior, such as sex exchange or drug use, or criminal justice involvement itself increases risk directly.
Methods: This study examines the relationship between STI and the frequency and duration of arrest, probation, and incarceration in a sample of women who use drugs (n = 394) in Oakland, California who reported having been tested for STI in the past six months. Logistic regression models of STI using criminal justice measures as independent variables were used, and subsequent estimates were adjusted for demographics, sex exchange, specific drugs used, and number of sexual partners.
Results: Any time spent in jail in the past year was associated with higher odds of recent STI (UOR = 2.28, 95%CI [1.41-3.51]), and short incarcerations (2-3 weeks) in jail most substantially increased the odds of an STI diagnosis (UOR = 7.65, 95%CI [1.03, 56.68]). Arrest and probation were not significantly associated with STI. After adjusting for the covariates, particularly sex exchange and opioid use, none of the criminal justice-related variables were significantly associated with STI.
Conclusions: A substantial portion of the increased risk of STI that is associated with criminal justice involvement for women who use drugs is likely due to sex exchange. Longitudinal studies are needed to temporally separate criminal justice exposures, drug use, sex exchange, and STI outcomes.