Criminal Justice and HIV
People with HIV are disproportionately incarcerated. While in prison, they face widespread discrimination and difficulty accessing appropriate medical care. Misguided laws that criminalize HIV exposure make matters worse, and are both bad public health and discriminatory.
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People with HIV/AIDS are disproportionately imprisoned in the United States.
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While incarcerated, they also frequently face barriers to accessing adequate HIV care, including in prison or immigration detention. The ACLU works to ensure that the government fulfills its obligation to provide adequate medical care and nondiscriminatory treatment to all those in its custody, and does not erect arbitrary barriers that prevent people from accessing life-saving care.
In addition to difficulties in access appropriate medical treatment, inmates with HIV often face discrimination because of their medical condition. In March 2011, the ACLU National Prison Project and the AIDS Project, along with the ACLU of Alabama, sued the Alabama Department of Corrections for discrimination against inmates living with HIV. Alabama is one of only two prison systems in the nation that segregates inmates with HIV and arbitrarily excludes them from important programming and re-entry opportunities. Learn more about this case, Henderson v. Bentley.
Sentenced to Stigma — Segregation of HIV-Positive Prisoners in Alabama and South Carolina (2010 report): In Alabama, people in the visiting room recognize the armband worn by John S. and ask him if he has HIV. In South Carolina, Ronald B. was sentenced to 90 days in jail, but because he is HIV-positive he went to the maximum security prison that houses death row prisoners. In Mississippi, guards tell prisoners in the segregated HIV unit to “get your sick asses out of the way” when they pass them in the hall. Many prisoners with HIV will spend more time in prison because they are not eligible for programs that promote early release. These are some of the harsh consequences of HIV policies in Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi, at the time, the only three states in the nation that have continued to segregate prisoners living with HIV. (Mississippi ended its policy as a result of pressure from advocates including the ACLU.) Learn more about our work on ending segregation of prisoners with HIV.
ACLU Blasts Ohio Correction Center for Refusing to Administer HIV Medication to Inmate (2004 press release): Even though it’s common knowledge that missing HIV medications can have life threatening consequences, some prisons still fail to ensure that inmates can continue treatment without interruption. We’ve fought to ensure that people get the care they deserve. Learn more here.
At Hearing on Health Conditions for HIV+ Prisoners, ACLU Says Officials Failed to Prevent Staph Infection Outbreak (2004 press release): In June 2004, at a federal court hearing on health conditions for Mississippi prisoners with HIV, the American Civil Liberties Union presented evidence that prison officials failed to prevent a drug-resistant staphylococcus outbreak within the men's unit for HIV-positive prisoners.