Alabama’s segregation for inmates with HIV faces court scrutiny

From: Reuters
Sept. 17th 2012

By Verna Gates

(Reuters) – Alabama, one of two U.S. states that segregate inmates with HIV from the rest of their prison population, will seek to defend the policy against a class action lawsuit headed to trial in federal court on Monday.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued Alabama in 2011 for what the group contends is a discriminatory practice that prevents most HIV-positive inmates from participating in rehabilitation and retraining programs important for their success after prison.

The state says the civil liberties group has failed to prove that there would be no significant risk of the infection being transmitted to other prisoners if inmates with HIV were fully integrated, according to court documents.

An appeals court upheld the segregated housing policy in 1999, but ACLU attorney Margaret Winter said advances in treatment for HIV infection warranted the court taking another look at the practice.

“It is based on an uneducated view on HIV and how it is transmitted, which really goes back to the dark ages of when it first started and there was hysteria,” she said.

South Carolina is the only other U.S. state that houses inmates with HIV away from other prisoners. Mississippi ceased a similar practice in March 2010 and has since integrated inmates with the infection, Winter said.

Two of Alabama’s 29 prisons have dormitories set aside specifically for prisoners with HIV. A handful of prisoners have been allowed to live and work in non-segregated settings in two work-release programs, Winter said.

Approximately 270 inmates out of the 26,400 in the state prison system have tested positive for the virus and none has developed AIDS, according to Alabama Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett.

Read the rest here:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/17/us-usa-alabama-hiv-idUSBRE88G0KS20120917

On World AIDS Day, Fight Ongoing Discrimination Against HIV-Positive Prisoners

Dec 1st, 2010
Posted by Suzanne Ito, ACLU
From: ACLU

At the beginning of this year, three states — Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina — continued to segregate its prisoners with HIV from the rest of the prison population.

In March of this year, we were thrilled to report that Mississippi saw how unjust and draconian that policy was, and integrated prisoners with HIV with the rest of the prison population.

Now, Alabama and South Carolina remain the two holdout states who refuse to integrate prisoners with HIV with the rest of the prison population. Prison officials in those two states contend that segregation is necessary to provide medical care and to prevent HIV transmission. But as an ACLU/Human Rights Watch report released earlier this year points out, the other 48 states that have integrated prisoners with HIV into the general prison population have demonstrated that appropriate inmate education, classification, and risk-reduction programs have proven to be effective HIV prevention tools. And time and again, public and correctional health experts agree that there is no medical basis for segregating prisoners with HIV within correctional facilities.

As a result of this irrational fear-based policy, prisoners with HIV in Alabama in South Carolina face stigma, harassment and systematic discrimination that amount to inhumane and degrading treatment. They’re forced to wear armbands or other indicators of their HIV status, to eat and even worship separately, and are denied equal participation in prison jobs, programs and re-entry opportunities that smooth the transition back into society. In fact, South Carolina is the only state in the union to prohibit prisoners with HIV from participating in work release programs. (Alabama finally allowed prisoners with HIV access to work release programs in 2009 in response to the ACLU’s advocacy.)

In June, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division sent a letter to South Carolina prison officials demanding they end their segregation policies and give those prisoners access to programs and services such as job training and other reintegration programs. South Carolina did not comply with the deadline the DOJ set forth in the letter; it’s possible a civil rights lawsuit is in the pipeline.

As the entire country struggles with budget deficits, states are looking to save money by incarcerating less people. This is done mostly by keeping parolees from landing back in prison, which is accomplished by providing the kinds of rehabilitative services that Alabama and South Carolina continue to deny prisoners with HIV, such as education and work release programs.

Alabama and South Carolina: What are you waiting for?

Mississippi Ends Draconian Segregation Policy Against Prisoners with HIV

One down, two to go.
Today we’re happy to announce the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) has agreed to stop segregating prisoners with HIV. South Carolina and Alabama remain the only states that continue to segregate prisoners with HIV.
These segregation policies are a result of decades-old fear and hysteria and paranoia about HIV. As Rachel Maddow and the ACLU’s Margaret Winter pointed out last year,

[…]During a federal trial in the mid-1990s, an Alabama warden testified that the segregation policy was an essential security measure since people with HIV were as dangerous as rattlesnakes…A warden at the women’s prison in Alabama testified that it was too dangerous to allow prisoners with HIV to attend chapel because they might leap from their seats and bite someone to deliberately infect them with the disease.

But public and correctional health experts agree that this fear is totally unfounded, and there is no medical basis for segregating prisoners with HIV within correctional facilities. Regardless of this, since 1987, MDOC has performed mandatory HIV tests on all prisoners entering the state prison system, and has permanently housed all male prisoners with HIV in a segregated unit at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, the state’s highest security prison. So prisoners who would normally be housed in low-custody facilities were forced  to serve their sentences in more violent, more expensive prisons, because they have HIV.
This change in policy is just the latest success after years of advocacy by the ACLU’s National Prison Project and Human Rights Watch on behalf of prisoners with HIV. In 2001, MDOC ended its policy of excluding prisoners with HIV from in-prison vocational, educational and religious programs. And in 2004, as a result of a class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of all Mississippi prisoners with HIV, MDOC ended its policy of excluding prisoners with HIV from the state’s work release and community corrections programs.
Yesterday’s New York Times reported that a new Pew Center report has found a slight decline in state prison populations, attributable, in part, to states looking to save money by incarcerating less people. This is done mostly by keeping parolees from landing back in prison, which is accomplished by providing the kinds of rehabilitative services that were once denied prisoners with HIV, such as education and work release programs.
So these reforms not only end discriminatory and unjust policies, but they’re grounded in good correctional and fiscal policy as well.
So Alabama and South Carolina, what are you waiting for?