A U.S. District Court judge has struck down a decades-old policy of segregating HIV-positive prisoners from other inmates in the state’s corrections system. According to the Associated Press, Judge Myron Thompson ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union, who sued the state on behalf of inmates to end the practice.
Thompson wrote, “It is evident that, while the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC)’s categorical segregation policy has been an unnecessary tool for preventing the transmission of HIV, it has been an effective one for humiliating and isolating prisoners living with the disease.”
The practice is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which as the ACLU said, “prohibits blanket disability-based exclusions and mandates that prisoners with disabilities must be housed in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of the individuals.”
Margaret Winter of the ACLU National Prison Project and lead counsel for the plaintiffs said, “Today’s decision is historic. It spells an end to a segregation policy that has inflicted needless misery on Alabama prisoners with HIV and their families.”
The court ordered ADOC to abandon all exclusionary policies aimed at prisoners with HIV, including work-release jobs, participation in faith-based honor dorms and other opportunities aimed a rehabilitating, educating and providing opportunities to the state’s prison population.
Prior to this ruling, prisoners with HIV were barred from participating in substance abuse and mental health rehabilitation programs, and were forced to wear white armbands announcing their HIV status at all times, a measure that Winter characterized as “a latter-day yellow star.”
Alabama has about 240 male and 10 female prisoners who are known to have HIV. The battle had gone back and forth in court since September, but the plaintiffs received a boost when ADOC’s associate commissioner in charge of security admitted on the stand that he no longer believes the HIV-segregation policy is justified or necessary.
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