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Civil Rights Organizations Urge End to Separation of HIV Positive Inmates

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By Dorothy Rowley, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspapers –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - The American Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights Watch are calling on the state governments of South Carolina and Alabama to immediately end their practices of segregating prisoners infected with HIV.

In a new report entitled, “Sentenced to Stigma: Segregation of HIV-Positive Prisoners in Alabama and South Carolina” the two groups implore both states to end their policies of isolating such prisoners from the rest of their inmate populations. The report claims that the practice, which only those two states currently employ, ostracizes HIV-positive inmates and prevents them from accessing resources freely available to their peers. Mississippi had also engaged in the isolation, but ended its long-standing practice last month after reviewing the report’s findings. The change in that state now allows HIV-positive prisoners to participate in training programs and jobs like kitchen work.

Also, those prisoners do not have to risk public disclosure of their HIV status as a result of being housed in a separate unit.

“There is no medical or other justification for separating prisoners with HIV from the rest of the prison population,” Megan McLemore, an HRW health researcher, told Reuters.“Like past policies of racial segregation, segregating prisoners with HIV is discriminatory, and the harm it causes extends well beyond the person’s prison term.” According to the ACLU, prisoners housed in HIV units in South Carolina and Alabama must don armbands or other indicators of their HIV status. They are also forced to eat and, in some cases, worship separately from other prisoners. The ACLU claimed that those inmates are being denied equal opportunities of prison jobs and programs which help facilitate smoother transitions for re-entry back into society.

Officials in both states insist that segregation is a necessity in order to provide medical care and to avoid further HIV transmission. That claim was rejected by the report, which cites findings of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that there is no medical basis for keeping individuals with the virus from kitchen or food-service employment.

The report claims that the practice poses a threat to inmates’ civil rights, and negatively impacts the states’ budgets because of the higher cost of separately imprisoning inmates with HIV/AIDS rather than mixing them with the general population.

Paulette Nicholas, an HIV/AIDS educator who is HIV-positive and served four years at Tutwiler Women’s Prison in Alabama, told the Montgomery Advertiser that the isolation twice penalizes the infected inmates.

She said, “You should not be given a double-sentence because of your health."


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