Rights groups urge Alabama to desegregate HIV-positive prisoners

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday called on the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) to end prison segregation based on HIV status. The ACLU and HRW jointly produced a report, which concluded that the prisoners face fundamental discrimination which amounts to "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners," including:involuntary disclosure of HIV status to family, staff and other prisoners; loss of liberty by assignment to higher security prisons; denial of work, program and re-entry opportunities; and policies that promote, rather than combat, fear, prejudice and even violence against persons living with HIV. These and other conditions documented in this report go well beyond discrimination.

ADOC responded by saying that the policy is necessary for the safety and protection of the inmates and guards and has resulted in a "near zero" rate of new HIV infections within the Alabama prison system since 2005. HIV-positive inmates are restricted in receiving rehabilitative programs such as in-prison jobs, education, faith-based or honor dorms, and reentry programs. HRW claims [report] that prison rape is systemic, prevalent, and under-reported, and that there is no evidence that segregating prisoners with HIV reduces the transmission of HIV within prisons.

Alabama is currently the only state that keeps a strict quarantine on HIV-positive inmates. South Carolina has a similar policy for housing but allows commingling for activities. In March, Mississippi ended its segregation program, after extending educational and vocational training to HIV-positive inmates in 2001. In 1990, the ACLU, on behalf of HIV-positive prisoners, sued to force Mississippi to provide proper medical care. HRW has also accused the federal Department of Homeland Security of providing inadequate medical care to HIV-positive immigration detainees.

(Published by Jurist- April 14, 2010)

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