Segregation no more: Judge is right to force state to amend its policy on HIV-positive inmates
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Dec 26, 2012 | 2296 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In a March 2008 file photo, April Duncan, foreground, of Evergreen, spends time with fellow inmate Bonita Graham, of Tuscaloosa, in the HIV Ward at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka. Photo: Jamie Martin/Associated Press/file
In a March 2008 file photo, April Duncan, foreground, of Evergreen, spends time with fellow inmate Bonita Graham, of Tuscaloosa, in the HIV Ward at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka. Photo: Jamie Martin/Associated Press/file
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Alabama’s overcrowded and under-funded prison system is awash in needs. One alteration won’t bring the state’s prisons into system-wide conformance.

Yet, a decision last Friday by Judge Myron H. Thompson of the Middle District of Alabama is a firm step in the right direction. Thompson ruled in favor an inmate-filed lawsuit and ordered the state to stop segregating HIV-positive prisoners from the general population.

We applaud that decision. Only two states — Alabama and South Carolina — house inmates with HIV in separate quarters. More important, the introduction of powerful antiretroviral drugs has reduced the risk of transmission of HIV through general contact. As such, most states stopped segregating their HIV-positive inmates years ago, The New York Times reported.

The response from the state’s Department of Corrections has been expectedly muted. “We will continue our review of the court’s opinion and determine our next course of action in a timely manner,” department spokesman Brian Corbett told The Times.

We’ll help out the Department of Corrections: Alabama should toss heed the judge’s ruling without appeal and toss its current policy of segregation in the trash. There is no reason for Alabama to carry an archaic mindset that treats HIV-positive inmates as they were biblical lepers.

As The Times noted, about 250 of the state’s 27,000 prisoners have tested positive for HIV. Those with the virus are treated differently than inmates who have viruses such as hepatitis B and C — which, according to the World Health Organization, are much more infectious than HIV.

“Inmates with HIV are barred from eating in the cafeteria, working around food, enrolling in certain educational programs or transferring to prisons near their families,” The Times wrote.

In fairness, the Department of Corrections’ concerns about logistics and funding shouldn’t be summarily discounted. By moving HIV-positive prisoners into the general populations of the state’s 29 prisons, providing and paying for specialized medical care for the inmates will become more difficult. For a state whose legislators have spent recent years fighting to protect the prisons’ budgets, that issue can’t be minimized.

This, however, isn’t a fiscal issue.

It’s an issue about how the state treats those it incarcerates. State prisoners lose a large portion of their rights — freedom being at the top of the list — but they are still humans. Segregating them, barring them from the cafeteria and keeping them from taking advantage of certain educational programs aren’t policies the state should retain.

It’s time Alabama leaves this outdated standard to South Carolina. Judge Thompson has shown us the correct path.
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