Published online by Cambridge University Press: 16 December 2013
HIV prevention and treatment are undergoing impressive technological and practice changes. In-home rapid testing, prophylaxis before risky sex, and treatment as prevention give cause for remarkable optimism and suggest the possibility of an AIDS-free generation. These changes in HIV prevention and treatment might affect HIV policy in several different directions. One direction would be further entrenchment of the currently prevailing punitive approach. A different direction would be a shift away from use of the criminal law as a method for discouraging risky behaviour and towards a strategy aimed to encourage the use of the new treatment and prevention possibilities. When such abrupt technological changes are accompanied by sharp changes in regulatory regimes, they are identified in the public policy literature as a ‘punctuated equilibrium’. A shift away from criminalisation in HIV policy, if sufficiently widespread and transformative, could reach the level of a punctuated equilibrium. This paper presents a critical assessment of the implications of the changes in available forms of treatment and prevention for the continued appeal of criminalisation as an approach to HIV policy. We conclude that criminalisation is less justifiable in the light of what might be circumstances ripe for a punctuated equilibrium.
This paper was presented at the ESRC seminar Criminalising Contagion: Legal and Ethical Challenges of Disease Transmission and the Criminal Law, at the University of Southampton, 10 January 2013. We are grateful to David Gurnham and to participants in the conference for comments on earlier versions of this paper.