The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) apparently never progressed past the last century’s view of HIV. Back in the mid-1980’s fear and ignorance about HIV was prevalent. People with the newly discovered disease were treated like pariahs. An individual with HIV often was abandoned by family and friends, and faced discrimination in jobs, housing and education. The CBS news show 60 Minutes did a feature on a New Haven, CT woman who was diagnosed as being HIV positive. The prevailing opinion was that she, and others who were HIV positive, should be quarantined away from society. A real fear of the unknown caused havoc for anyone with HIV, or anyone suspected of being HIV positive.
Fortunately, as information about the disease became available, and people realized that HIV was not as easy to contract as once thought, the witch hunts diminished, and in most places in the U.S. acceptance of HIV positive individuals became the norm, except in Alabama and South Carolina, the only two states that continue to segregate HIV positive inmates from the general population.
This week in Alabama, the ACLU has taken on the ADOC in an effort to end the dehumanizing and discriminatory policy of segregating HIV positive inmates. In an ACLU press release, Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project, stated, “The mere fact that a person has HIV does not make him a threat to anyone, and there is no legitimate reason whatsoever to categorically segregate prisoners with HIV. There’s a national consensus among state prison administrators, public health officials and correctional medical experts that segregation of prisoners with HIV is not only unnecessary but counter-productive.”
The ADOC denies inmates with HIV rehabilitative, vocational and mental health programs, according to the ACLU, which also claims HIV positive inmates in Alabama are ordered to wear a white armband all day so others will know that they are infected with the disease.
In the ACLU press release Amanda Goad, staff attorney with the ACLU AIDS Project, declared “Alabama’s treatment of these prisoners is an appalling relic of previous decades’ ignorance and irrational fear of HIV and AIDS. It is well established that there is no medical possibility of transmitting HIV through casual contact or through jobs like food service or laundry. Prison medical facilities are more than capable of administering modern HIV treatments, just like they provide treatment for other chronic medical conditions. There is no legitimate basis for claiming that desegregating prisoners will cause disruption or violence.”
The ACLU filed a class-action suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, and as the trial begins, advocates of those living with HIV are hoping that the Court’s decision will bring an end to the disgraceful and inhumane ADOC policy.