[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF; ACLU press release] Friday that Alabama’s policy of segregating HIV-positive prisoners violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) [text]. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] against the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) [official website] last year challenging the policy. Judge Myron Thompson found Friday for the plaintiffs:
the court finds that the segregation policy is based on outdated and unsupported assumptions about HIV and the prison system’s ability to deal with HIV-positive prisoners. The policy is also infected, and the reasons the ADOC has proffered for its continued existence undermined, by an intentional bias against HIV-positive people, as reflected in a bias from those in charge … and in a system-wide tolerance for a culture of bias, rooted in large measure in ignorance about HIV, from among not only prisoners but employees in general. … Therefore, any remedy the defendants might propose to the court must be based not only on a willingness to revisit assumptions and to look to all reasonably available and untapped resources; and must not only be uninfected by bias against those with HIV, but it must also address the lack of education and ignorance among both prisoners and prison employees about HIV. “We live in Alabama” is not an excuse.
Alabama was one of two states that still segregate prisoners based on HIV status—South Carolina is the other. Mississippi ended [AP report] its segregation policy in 2009.
In 2010 the ACLU and Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy websites] called on ADOC to end prison segregation based on HIV status [JURIST report]. The ACLU and HRW jointly produced a report [text, PDF], which concluded that the prisoners face fundamental discrimination which amounts to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners,” including “involuntary disclosure of HIV status to family, staff and other prisoners; loss of liberty by assignment to higher security prisons; denial of work, program and re-entry opportunities; and policies that promote, rather than combat, fear, prejudice and even violence against persons living with HIV.” ADOC responded [report, PDF] by saying that the policy is necessary for the safety and protection of the inmates and guards and has resulted in a “near zero” rate of new HIV infections within the Alabama prison system since 2005.