South Carolina Becomes Final State to End Segregation of Prisoners With HIV

July 10, 2013 12:00 am

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Announcement Marks Culmination of Quarter-Century ACLU Campaign to End Discriminatory and Arbitrary Practice

July 10, 2013

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CHARLESTON, S.C. – The South Carolina Department of Corrections confirmed today that it is abolishing its policy of segregating HIV-positive prisoners, making South Carolina the final state to do so. Segregating prisoners with HIV keeps those prisoners from accessing valuable services and programs they desperately need, permanently brands them by publicly “outing” their HIV status, and can lead to longer incarceration terms, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has been working for the last 26 years to end the practice of segregating prisoners with HIV nationwide.

“HIV ghettos became a shameful fixture in U.S. prisons during the earliest days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, especially in the Deep South,” said Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “Today, South Carolina closes a discriminatory chapter in U.S. history, one that was driven by ignorance, fear, and bias.”

For decades, HIV-positive prisoners in South Carolina have been subjected to a policy which required isolation and segregation, and forced prisoners to involuntarily disclose their health status in violation of medical ethics and international human rights law. Prisoners living with HIV were barred from equal access to many in-prison jobs and programs, including a host of rehabilitative, educational, trade skills and vocational programs. Those with serious mental health needs and substance abuse problems were excluded from critically important treatment programs.

“Ending a long outdated policy that stigmatized human beings and ignored modern medical information is a tremendous victory for human rights,” said Susan K. Dunn, legal director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “While the segregation of HIV-positive prisoners has long been an unnecessary and ineffective tool for preventing the transmission of HIV, it has had the profound effect of humiliating and isolating prisoners living with the disease.”

South Carolina’s decision to end its segregation policy is a milestone in the ACLU’s campaign to end HIV segregation in the Deep South, through litigation, negotiation, and public education. In 2010, Mississippi completely abandoned HIV segregation under pressure of a scathing report by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, and in December 2012 in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, a federal court ruled that Alabama’s HIV segregation policy violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

When most prison systems began to experiment with HIV segregation, transmission risks were not fully understood. There was no effective treatment for the disease, and people with HIV were treated like pariahs. Today, however, the Center for Disease Control opposes HIV segregation as irrational and counterproductive, and as of today every state in the nation has repudiated HIV segregation.

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