Blog of Rights

PBS' "Perpetuating Stigma" Highlights HIV Criminalization

By Allison Neal, ACLU of Alabama & Carl Takei, ACLU National Prison Project & Rose Saxe, AIDS Project at 3:17pm

Earlier this week, PBS aired the documentary Perpetuating Stigma about the ongoing criminalization of women with HIV. Through the stories of several women impacted by HIV criminalization — the use of criminal law to target people diagnosed with HIV for prosecutions and imprisonment — the documentary movingly illustrates how such laws dehumanize and stigmatize women living with HIV. But because of the opposition of the Alabama Department of Corrections, the producers of “Perpetuating Stigma” never got to tell the story of Dana Harley.

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Dana Harley is a prisoner in the segregated unit for women with HIV at the Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Alabama. When women first arrive at Tutwiler, they are tested for HIV. If a woman’s test results come back positive, she is placed in solitary confinement — sometimes for weeks — and eventually transferred to permanent housing in a segregated unit reserved for prisoners with HIV. Until she is released from Tutwiler, she will never again be housed with prisoners who do not have HIV. This HIV segregation policy, which has remained in place since the mid-1980s, stigmatizes people like Dana and denies them the same access to programs available to other prisoners. Along with South Carolina, Alabama is one of only two states left in the nation that still maintain such HIV segregation policies. Dana is one of nine people with HIV who, with the assistance of the ACLU, are challenging this discriminatory policy. The producers of Perpetuating Stigma attempted to interview Dana about her story, but the Commissioner of Corrections refused to permit the PBS producers to visit her, citing “ongoing litigation.” Even if the Commissioner will not allow Dana to speak for herself, the ACLU will continue to fight for her rights against unfair discrimination.

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