Jailed Women & HIV Education: A Collaborative Investigation

Jessica Fields, San Francisco State University

HIV/AIDS researchers are increasingly turning their attention to women, and many recognize the importance of jails as a unique opportunity to reach the many disenfranchised women who move quickly through jails and return to their communities and to address the many conditions that put many women at risk of infection. However, many of the most innovative HIV/AIDS education and prevention programs continue to focus on incarcerated men. This pilot study aims to establish a foundation for a participatory, collaborative research program that will improve the HIV/AIDS education and services currently available to women moving through California's jails. Specific aims include understanding the many ways incarcerated women experience HIV/AIDS risk and infection; identifying the obstacles that incarcerated women confront when trying to implement HIV/AIDS prevention strategies; and determining the feasibility and impact of jailed women, health educators, and university researchers collaborating in the study of HIV/AIDS and education in incarcerated women's lives.

This project combines qualitative and participatory action research (PAR). Jailed HIV+ and HIV- women, HIV/AIDS educators, and university researchers will collaboratively study participants' experiences with HIV/AIDS and HIV/AIDS education. Qualitative interviews and observations will help provide a comprehensive understanding of HIV/AIDS in women's lives; illuminate the culturally specific social conditions that compromise disenfranchised women's ability to negotiate and maintain their sexual and reproductive health; and determine the potential for collaborative research on HIV/AIDS with incarcerated women. PAR will occur in four series of four two-hour training and research workshops. Workshops will include discussions of HIV/AIDS prevention strategies, interviews about obstacles to women acting on these lessons, data analysis in which women examine transcripts from the other unit, and planning and reflection sessions in which collaborators decide the structure and content of the next workshops. Participants will be women and, following the San Francisco County Jails female population, predominantly African American (55%) and Latina (21%) (n=approximately 240). Data analysis will be grounded and allow jailed women to participate as "co-researchers." Once data collection is complete, open coding of the transcripts and fieldnotes will begin. The themes, patterns, and categories identified in this process will lead to later "focused coding" using NVivo, a qualitative data analysis software package. In biweekly meetings, team members will share emerging analyses with women in the participating housing units.

This pilot study is an exploration of the possibilities for researcher, educator, and inmate collaborations in California's jail-based HIV education programs. Much of the insight will come through the women serving time working with educators and researchers to illuminate and eradicate the conditions that leave women vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and incarceration. The comprehensive understanding that results from this collaboration will lead to an expanded collaborative research effort to develop and evaluate jail-based interventions that reflect culturally specific understandings of HIV/AIDS and incarceration in women's lives. This subsequent intervention and evaluation study will provide a model HIV/AIDS curriculum that could be of use throughout California jails.