Alabama policy of segregating inmates with HIV goes on trial

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Alabama’s policy of segregating inmates living with HIV is on trial in a U.S. District Court courtroom in Montgomery.

The trial began Sept. 17, with opening arguments in the case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Alabama Department of Corrections.

The department segregates prisoners living with HIV from other inmates, requires them to wear a white armband to show their status and bars HIV-positive prisoners from rehabilitative, vocational and mental health programs.

The policy prompted the class action suit that’s gone to a trial expected to last up to a month.

The state of Alabama contends that HIV does not qualify as an impairment under federal law.

The ACLU maintains the state is violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The mere fact that a person has HIV does not make him a threat to anyone, and there is no legitimate reason whatsoever to categorically segregate prisoners with HIV,” said Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “There’s a national consensus among state prison administrators, public health officials and correctional medical experts that segregation of prisoners with HIV is not only unnecessary but counter-productive.”

South Carolina also segregates prisoners with HIV into designated housing. Mississippi ended such segregation in 2010 following the release of an ACLU-Human Rights Watch report documenting the harassment and discrimination segregated prisoners face.

“Alabama’s treatment of these prisoners is an appalling relic of previous decades’ ignorance and irrational fear of HIV and AIDS,” said Amanda Goad, staff attorney with the ACLU AIDS Project.