The ACLU announced today that it is challenging Alabama’s Department of Corrections (ADOC) policy to segregate prisoners who are HIV+. According to a statement from the civil-rights group, the policy automatically excludes HIV+ prisoners from access to work-release and drug-rehabilitation programs and certain housing privileges. Some have been made to wear white armbands to identify their sero-status. The ACLU will argue Henderson v. Thomas, a class-action suit filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act, in Montgomery federal court starting next Monday.
Prisoners with HIV deserve the same rights, privileges and access to resources as any other inmates. But given the prevalence of violence and sexual assault in the prison system, is segregation a necessary evil? And given the prejudices against gay and HIV+ inmates, could separate housing protect at-risk inmates?
The ACLU is arguing that “critical advances in medical treatment” mean that HIV is not the “invariably fatal disease” the courts ruled it was in 1999. But is that really the litmus test? According to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control in 2006, the risks of HIV infection in prison is five times higher than it is in the general population.
At the same time, we bristle at the idea of curtailing people’s liberties because of what could potentially happen. Setting aside the clearly unfair practice of denying inmates access to rehab and work release, is it wrong to separate HIV+ prisoners? Or is it a necessary security measure for both the general prison population and the positive inmates themselves?
We don’t have the answers—but we’re hoping you do. Pass judgment in the comments section below.