South Carolina and Alabama, the last two states in America to segregate inmates with HIV from general prison populations, agreed this week to abandon the practice.
While South Carolina's deal was timed with Attorney General Eric Holder's filing of a federal complaint in Columbia, S.C., Alabama settled only after years of legal wrangling with the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU had previously slammed the shameful and discriminatory practice of creating "HIV ghettos" in U.S. prisons.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels meanwhile applauded South Carolina for joining "49 other state correctional systems that recognize that individuals with HIV are entitled to equal treatment under the law."
"We applaud SCDC's efforts to close this final chapter of illegal segregation of inmates based on HIV and, to instead commit to the integration of current and future inmates with HIV, based on their individual circumstances, individualized assessment and classification level," Samuels added, abbreviating the South Carolina Department of Corrections.
In its lawsuit against SCDC and its director, William Byars, the federal government had said that, "without medical justification, SCDC requires that inmates with HIV be housed in 'HIV only' dorms, in only two of its highest security facilities, regardless of an inmate's individual security classification or behavior. SCDC requires inmates at these facilities to wear clothing that identifies their dorms, and the otherwise confidential HIV status of inmates with HIV is therefore affirmatively publicized to all staff, visitors, other inmates, and members of the public."
At the prison complex in Columbia, "male inmates with HIV have been required to have blue dots on their identification badges and/or wear wristbands of a specific color indicating that they live in the HIV-designated dorms," according to the complaint.
Meanwhile, female inmates allegedly wore "uniforms with the label 'Whitney B' imprinted across the back, which is the dorm designated for female inmates with HIV."
This requirement effectively "publicized to all staff, visitors, other inmates, and members of the public" confidential disability-related information about inmates, according to the complaint.
Inmates with HIV also were denied "the opportunity to participate in a variety of services, programs, and activities available to other inmates, such as drug treatment (even where a condition of an inmate's sentence or necessary for parole), work release, pre-release preparation, hardship transfers, intermediate psychiatric care, and jobs," according the complaint.
Uncle Sam said that SCDC additionally "categorically bars inmates with HIV from jobs in the cafeteria and canteen, without justification."
"Inmate participation in work release programs provides inmates with the opportunity to reduce the length of a sentence, and inmate jobs in the cafeteria and canteen, for which inmates with HIV cannot participate under policy, while not paying, provide work credits for inmates," the complaint states. "Because they are denied participation in, or equal opportunities to benefit from, these jobs, otherwise qualified inmates with HIV must serve longer sentences than other inmates with the same classification."
The U.S. Attorney's Office says it started investigating HIV discrimination in the South Carolina prison system in 2009 after receiving complaints. In 2010, the government allegedly notified SCDC by that its discrimination against inmates with HIV likely violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
SCDC nevertheless failed and refused "to take appropriate steps to ensure compliance with the requirements of Title II, Section 504, and their implementing regulations," according to the complaint.
The practice of separating inmates with HIV in U.S. prison systems was at one point common, but nearly all states have abandoned the practice with increased awareness about infection.
South Carolina and Alabama had been the last two states in the country to separate prisoners in their system with HIV from other inmates.
On the same day of South Carolina's settlement, Alabama agreed to integrate inmates with HIV into the general prison population by Nov. 1, 2014.
That settlement came in the complaint that the ACLU filed against Alabama in 2011.
Source: Courthouse News