Blog of Rights

In Alabama and South Carolina, Separate and Unequal

By Suzanne Ito, ACLU at 11:30am

Last month, we blogged about the state of Mississippi's decision to stop segregating prisoners with HIV from the rest of the prison population.

Today, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch released a new report that focuses on Alabama and South Carolina, the two remaining states that continue this misguided and draconian practice.

In those two states, prisoners with HIV 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, are forced 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.

The report, Sentenced to Stigma, shows how behind the times these two states truly are. Alabama and South Carolina prison officials contend that segregation is necessary to provide medical care and to prevent HIV transmission. But as the report points out, the other 48 states that have integrated prisoners with HIV into the general prison population have demonstrated that information and risk-reduction programs have proven to be effective HIV prevention tools.

One of the prisons that segregate prisoners with HIV from the rest of the prison population is Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, a maximum security facility in Wetumpka, Ala. You can watch an interview with some of the prisoners who have been segregated, and read letters they've written about the discriminatory treatment.

When the HIV/AIDS epidemic was first identified, public health policy driven by ignorance and fear led to over-restrictive prison policies. In 1987, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against Alabama's segregation policy. Since then, the country has come a long way in terms of knowledge about HIV/AIDS and treatments for the disease, and 48 states have amended their policies to reflect this awareness. It's time for Alabama and South Carolina to catch up with the rest of the country and end these segregation policies.

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