HOME (Prevention for Women with Incarcerated Partners)


Women with incarcerated partners are at particular risk for HIV infection. Their partners are over five times more likely than men in the general population to be HIV+. Incarcerated men also have a high incidence of injection drug use. Women with incarcerated partners are primarily low-income women of color for whom racism, poverty and sexism contribute to increased HIV risk and whose life stressors are exacerbated by their partners' imprisonment.


The purpose of the HOME project is to design and test an intervention to reduce HIV risk among women whose male partner is being released from San Quentin State Prison. This study is funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR). The 12-month HOME intervention ran from February 2005 through January 2006. Weekly activities addressing HIV and STD prevention, women's health, and population-specific topics such as parole information were held at a center for visitors directly outside of the gates of San Quentin. Eleven women who visit incarcerated men were trained as peer educators and were closely involved with project staff in facilitating weekly activities. We collected data during the intervention period using the same quantitative surveys used in our formative research. We also are comparing participants in two cross-sectional surveys, one conducted immediately prior to the launch of the intervention and one conducted immediately after the intervention left the field. Finally, we conducted longitudinal qualitative interviews with the project peer educators.

Formative research

Prior to developing HOME, we conducted several studies with women with incarcerated partners. Based on information gathered in focus groups and pilot studies, we developed an HIV prevention intervention that addresses the specific needs of women with incarcerated partners and facilitates their utilization of community services. This intervention was a peer-led HIV education workshop that provided HIV information, facilitated supportive relationships between visitors and provided referrals as needed. This program and its evaluation are described in a published article (Comfort M, Grinstead OA, Faigeles B, Zack B. Reducing HIV risk among women visiting their incarcerated male partners.Criminal Justice and Behavior, 2000, Vol 21, p. 57-71). We also conducted a series of cross-sectional surveys of women leaving the prison after visiting. These descriptive surveys showed that women visitors are most often low income women of color and that the majority of visitors are raising children. Survey results also indicated that women are spending a large portion of their income on visiting, phone calls and other costs of maintaining their relationship with an incarcerated man. (Grinstead O, Faigeles B, Bancroft C, Zack B. The financial cost of maintaining relationships with incarcerated men: results from a survey of women prison visitors. Journal of African American Men. 2001.)


In response to our findings that many women are unaware of or minimize the risk of having an incarcerated partner, we created "Inside/Out: Real Stories of Men and Women and Life After Incarceration." This 17-minute video presents real stories of four women whose partners have been incarcerated and five men who have served time. The video explores the challenges faced by women after their partners are released from prison. Inside/Out focuses on the health risks in prison and highlights the need for honest communication around health issues when planning for the future. The accompanying discussion guide is designed to draw women with incarcerated partners and other at-risk women into a discussion about the risks of partner incarceration and other partner risk issues. 

Research findings

In an effort to deepen our understanding of how circumstances of forced separation and the interdiction of physical contact affect women's sexual behavior, we investigated the development and maintenance of heterosexual couples' intimacy when the male partner is incarcerated. We recognize that correctional control extends to these women's bodies, both when they are within the facility's walls visiting their mates and when they are at home striving to remain connected to absent men. Using our formative qualitative interviews with 20 women who visit their incarcerated partners and 13 correctional officers who interact with prison visitors, we examined how institutional constraints such as the regulation of women's apparel, the prohibition of physical contact, and the lack of forums for privacy result in couples forging alternative "spaces" in which their relationships occur. Romantic scripts, the build-up of sexual tension during the incarceration period and conditions of parole promote unprotected sexual intercourse and other HIV/STD risk behavior following release from prison. (Comfort M, Grinstead O, McCartney K, Bourgois P, Knight K. You cannot do nothing in this damn place": sex and intimacy among couples with an incarcerated male partner. J Sex Res. 2005 Feb;42(1):3-12.)

Research Date