According to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union, the civil rights group has reached an agreement with the state of Alabama regarding the treatment of HIV positive prisoners. The rights group has been pushing for this agreement with litigation and negotiation since 1989.
The state of Alabama has maintained the policy of segregating HIV positive prisoners from the general population of inmates in Alabama’s prisons. The ACLU claims that the HIV positive prisoners have been consistently denied rehabilitation, educational, and religious services granted to general population prisoners that are free of the virus.
The ACLU wrote a letter to the Alabama Department of Corrections on September 28th, 2007 to address these concerns. Richard F. Allen, the commissioner of the ADOC, summarily conducted a review of the prison policies regarding HIV positive inmates. As a result of the review Allen agreed that changes to the policies should be forthcoming.
Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison Project made these comments regarding the situation: “Alabama’s HIV segregation policy has for many years been a shameful remnant of an earlier time and Commissioner Allen’s wise decision to modify this degrading policy will bring about far-reaching benefits for all Alabamans.”
Alabama is currently the only state in the United States that segregates HIV positive prisoners. The ACLU claims that these prisoners are completely segregated from other prisoners, and given only the barest access to visitation, religious services, and substance abuse treatment programs. One correctional facility for women in Alabama keeps HIV positive female prisoners segregated behind barbed wire.
The civil rights group claims that the segregation of these prisoners is only a portion of the discrimination that these inmates face.
Olivia Turner, Executive Director of the ACLU of Alabama claimed: “For decades, HIV-positive prisoners in Alabama have served longer and harsher sentences solely due to their HIV status; they have been denied the opportunity to improve themselves; they have been locked down and away from everyone else in the prison for 23 or 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
Turner also claimed that there was no justification for Alabama’s treatment of these prisoners either from a public health or prison system standpoint. She also claimed that the prisoner’s treatment by the Alabama correctional system constituted a violation of their human rights, and that it was unnecessary.
The ACLU praised Richard Allen for starting the process to improve conditions for HIV positive prisoners, however they plan to continue to negotiate with him to get him to agree to allow HIV positive prisoners to participate in work release programs. The prisoners are currently barred from such programs often solely on the basis of their HIV positive status.