Policy Is Discriminatory And Undermines Rehabilitation Efforts
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MONTGOMERY, AL – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama today filed a federal class action lawsuit charging that a state policy requiring prisoners with HIV be segregated from the rest of the state’s prison population is discriminatory, illegal and bars prisoners from participating in critical prison programs and jobs.
Filed on behalf of 10 named plaintiffs imprisoned by the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), the lawsuit charges the policy denies all prisoners with HIV access to rehabilitative and community re-entry programs, and may result in their serving longer sentences. The Department also requires all men with HIV to wear white armbands signifying their assignment to the HIV living area, forcing them to publicly disclose their HIV status in violation of medical ethics and international human rights law. This forced disclosure permanently stigmatizes these prisoners and makes it much harder for them to get jobs upon their release.
“There is absolutely no legitimate justification for segregating prisoners with HIV from the general prison population,” said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “It is more than clear that Alabama can meet its obligation to safely incarcerate prisoners and provide them with necessary medical care without requiring them to forfeit their right to be free from disability-based discrimination. Alabama’s policy, which has been rejected by 48 states, is nothing more than a shameful remnant of an earlier era of ignorance and hysteria about HIV.”
Along with South Carolina, Alabama is one of only two states in the nation that continue to segregate all prisoners with HIV in separate, specially designated housing units. Mississippi ended its segregation policy last year when the ACLU and Human Rights Watch released a report documenting the stigma, harassment and systemic discrimination segregated prisoners with HIV face.
A product of the 1980s and the tidal wave of public fear that gripped the nation over the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the policy is emblematic of an era when widespread popular confusion existed over the methods of HIV transmission, treatment options were virtually nonexistent and HIV was considered a death sentence. It is clear today that HIV cannot be transmitted through casual contact and the development of new classes of antiretroviral medications allows people with HIV to look forward to a normal lifespan.