Tag Archives: prisoners

Civil rights groups sue over alleged abuse at youth prison

Civil rights groups sued Wisconsin seeking improvements at a youth prison because guards there are still abusing children despite state and federal investigations.

The American Civil Liberties Union along with the Juvenile Law Center filed a federal lawsuit this week asking a judge to limit solitary confinement, mechanical restraints and the use of pepper spray at the Irma facility. State investigators spent all of 2015 probing allegations of widespread abuse at Lincoln Hills. The FBI has since taken over the probe.

A number of state prison officials have resigned or retired in the midst of the investigations. But no one has been charged and the FBI has said nothing about the investigation’s progress.

ACLU attorney Larry Dupuis said during a Milwaukee news conference that his group had hoped the investigations would prompt changes at the prison. But he said guards continue to violate inmates’ constitutional rights by locking them up in solitary confinement, chaining them to desks and pepper spraying them for minor infractions, prompting the ACLU lawsuit. During a visit to the prison in October, Dupuis said, he saw a boy get pepper sprayed and dragged off because he wouldn’t remove his shoes.

“Usually when ACLU shows up at a prison, (guards are) on their best behavior,” Dupuis said. “We were shocked by what we heard and saw for ourselves. If I had any reason to believe something was coming in the investigations, we may have held off.”

FBI spokesman Leonard Peace declined to comment, saying the investigation was ongoing. State Department of Corrections spokesman Tristan Cook declined comment as well.

The ACLU and the law center filed the lawsuit on behalf of three children currently held at the prison and one child who was held there before he was moved to a mental health facility.

The filing alleges on any day up to 20 percent of the prison’s population is held in solitary confinement in tiny, unfurnished cells. They receive only an hour of education instead of the four or five they would normally get and are chained to their desks or shackled, the lawsuit alleges. Guards needlessly pepper spray inmates for minor, nonviolent infractions, sometimes using a spray meant to stop bears, the lawsuit added.

The practices are unconstitutionally excessive and cruel, the lawsuit said. The filing asks a judge to allow solitary confinement, mechanical restraints and pepper spray only in rare cases to avoid serious physical harm.

Attorney General Brad Schimel declined to defend the state in the lawsuit Tuesday because the Department of Justice ran the state’s portion of the investigation, creating a conflict, DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos said. That means Gov. Scott Walker’s administration will need to hire private attorneys.

Twenty-nine states have prohibited solitary confinement as punishment for juveniles, according to the pro bono law firm Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest. Wisconsin is one of 15 states that limit the time a juvenile spends in solitary confinement; Wisconsin’s maximum is 60 days. Seven states have no limit on solitary confinement or allow indefinite extensions, according to the center.

Wisconsin lawmakers haven’t passed any measures addressing conditions at the youth prison since word of the investigation broke a year ago. Republican state Rep. Joel Kleefisch and Democratic state Sen. LaTonya Johnson began circulating a bill Tuesday that would require prison guards to report child abuse to law enforcement in response to the prison allegations.

Rep. Michael Schraa, chairman of the Assembly’s corrections committee, didn’t immediately return a message. The state Senate doesn’t have a corrections committee; the equivalent body is the judiciary committee, led by Republican Van Wanggaard. His aide, Scott Kelly, said Wanggaard wants to see the FBI’s findings before drawing conclusions but is growing more frustrated with the agency for not releasing any information.

Maximum stints in solitary cut, but Waupun inmates left in dark

Waupun Correctional Institution officials failed to notify inmates for months that Wisconsin had dramatically lowered the maximum time in solitary confinement for rule violations, Department of Corrections records and interviews show.

One inmate, Markell Simon, charged he was tricked into agreeing to six months in seclusion because he was unaware the DOC had cut maximum sentences by 75 percent for individual offenses — from 360 days to 90 days. Another inmate, Hurcel Staples, who was released from Waupun Oct. 6, also told the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism that he had never been notified by prison officials of the changes in solitary confinement.

Records released to the center by the DOC in December show Waupun officials were told to post a copy of the new policy for inmates on Aug. 13 — 10 weeks after it had been enacted. The center had filed a public records request on Sept. 29 seeking verification that Waupun inmates had been notified of the new approach to solitary confinement.

DOC spokeswoman Joy Staab declined to answer a question about why Waupun inmates were not notified of the new policy when it was enacted June 1, saying only that staff implemented the changes at that time.

Wisconsin is among several states, including New York, that are reducing use of solitary confinement, largely in response to lawsuits and research showing that spending up to 23 hours a day with little or no human contact and little constructive activity can cause lasting psychological damage. A top United Nations official has said more than 15 days in isolation is tantamount to torture.

Wisconsin’s new policy has reduced the number of prisoners in so-called restrictive status housing by more than 200, from 1,098 at the beginning of 2015 to 892 as of Dec. 31, Staab said.

Waupun inmate Simon said in a Sept. 21 letter to the center that he voluntarily agreed to serve 180 days in solitary confinement “only because I was under the assumption and understanding that if I went to my hearing and contested the time, I would be risking receiving 360 day(s)” — the former maximum penalty. In fact, under the new policy, Simon’s maximum punishment for assault, disruptive conduct and disobeying orders could have been as little as 120 days.

Part of DOC’s new policy involves “one-on-one negotiations between an officer and an inmate,” a top DOC official told the center in a July interview. The DOC’s mental health director, Dr. Kevin Kallas, said the agency was encouraging such negotiations so discipline “could take effect now and start now rather than needing to wait for some formal process for every little thing.”

But for at least two and a half months, Waupun inmates were at a distinct disadvantage: They were not notified that maximum terms had been sharply reduced. In addition, mitigating factors, such as a documented history of mental illness, can reduce time in solitary while enhancers, such as repeat violations, can add time to the punishment, according to the new rules.

DOC records show Simon pleaded guilty in July, agreeing to serve 180 days in solitary for assault, disobeying orders and disruptive conduct after fighting with two other inmates. Under the new policy, the maximum penalty without enhancers for Simon’s offenses would have been between 120 and 180 days, depending on whether disruptive conduct was treated as a “lesser included offense” to assault that does not carry additional time.

Records provided by the DOC show at least two other inmates also may have voluntarily agreed to longer-than-maximum punishments.

Simon said he found out about the new policy through news coverage around Aug. 25 while he was still in isolation. He found the revelation “shocking.”

“In my opinion, the Waupun administration is attempting to circumvent the new policy changes made by Madison by preying on the ignorance of the inmates incarcerated here,” wrote Simon, who is serving a two-year sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm. “None of us were aware of these revisions because there was never a memo or mention of them whatsoever by the administration.”

Staples told the center he also was unaware of the new policy while he was incarcerated at Waupun.

“They didn’t let me know any of them (changes),” Staples said. “I saw something on the news that the DOC made an agreement about how they’re going to do segregation.”

Waupun warden led changes

The lack of notification is noteworthy given that then-Waupun Warden William Pollard was co-chairman of the work group that devised the new DOC policy. Pollard, who is now the warden at Dodge Correctional Institution, has since been replaced by Brian Foster, former warden of Green Bay Correctional Institution.

In 2014, the center documented dozens of allegations of physical and psychological abuse of prisoners in solitary confinement by correctional officials at Waupun, 55 miles northeast of Madison. Corrections officials have said the inmates are lying.

Asked why Waupun failed to notify inmates of the rule changes in a timely way, Staab responded in an email, “This policy for staff to follow was implemented immediately upon completion in June.” She made no mention of inmate notification.

Staab did not answer when asked via email what steps, if any, Waupun had taken to modify disciplinary sentences that were meted out before inmates were made aware of the new policy.

The email and disciplinary records showed that Oct. 19, three weeks after the center’s public records request, Pollard did overturn two disciplinary actions taken in July and August for inmate Demetrius Thompson.

Pollard wrote that officials had failed to consider mitigating circumstances as required under the new rules that would have resulted in shorter terms in isolation. Sentences can be shortened for factors including a documented history of mental illness or if the inmate stopped the misconduct after directed by staff.

In one of those cases from July, the records show, Thompson had agreed to 150 days in solitary — 60 days longer than the maximum amount for any one offense. No other details of either incident were included in the DOC records.

The records show that another inmate, Theodore Duerst, agreed July 31 to 90 days in isolation, although the new maximum penalty for his offense, disobeying orders, is 30 days. On Aug. 25, Duerst agreed to a punishment of 120 days for again disobeying orders — four times the maximum under the new rules. Duerst’s offenses were refusing to move into a cell he deemed too hot and refusing to continue rooming with an inmate with whom he had trouble, according to the records.

Larry Dupuis, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said the lack of notification of Waupun inmates could provide a basis for shortening their time in solitary.

“A person still in solitary should be able to challenge the continuation of a sentence that is longer than what was authorized at the time the sentence was imposed,” Dupuis said.

The Rev. Jerry Hancock said the incident demonstrates the DOC “is not sincere” in enacting the less punitive rules. He added the lack of notification by Waupun bolsters the call by his faith-based group, Wisdom, for “effective, independent oversight” of the agency.

“It proves conclusively a need for an outside monitor for the … implementation of solitary confinement policies in DOC,” said Hancock, a minister of Madison’s First Congregational United Church of Christ and a former prosecutor. “Without an outside monitor, there is no reason to trust the DOC when it comes to implementing this policy.”

Funding for this report came from the Vital Projects Fund. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

ACLU sues architects of CIA torture program

Three former Central Intelligence Agency prisoners represented by the American Civil Liberties Union suing two psychologists who designed and implemented the CIA’s torture program.

CIA-contracted psychologists James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen helped convince the agency to adopt torture as official policy under George W. Bush administration, making millions of dollars in the process.

The two men, who had previously worked for the U.S. military, designed the torture methods and performed illegal human experimentation on CIA prisoners to test and refine the program. They personally took part in torture sessions and oversaw the program’s implementation for the CIA.

The lawsuit is being brought on behalf of three men — Gul Rahman, Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud — who were tortured using methods developed by Mitchell and Jessen, as detailed in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s landmark report on CIA torture.

The United States has never charged or accused the victims of any crime. One of them was tortured to death and the other two are now free.

“Mitchell and Jessen conspired with the CIA to torture these three men and many others,” said Steven Watt, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program. “They claimed that their program was scientifically based, safe and proven, when in fact it was none of those things. The program was unlawful and its methods barbaric. Psychology is a healing profession, but Mitchell and Jessen violated the ethical code of ‘do no harm’ in some of the most abhorrent ways imaginable.”

Genital searches interfere with client, attorney meetings at Guantánamo

Two men detained at Guantánamo failed to meet with their attorneys because the U.S. prison has reinstated genital searches.

Human rights advocates expressed concern that the searches are deliberate attempts to stop detainees from meeting with their lawyers. 

Staff at Guantánamo told Cori Crider, an attorney with the UK-based Reprieve human rights group, detainee Samir Moqbel refused their meeting because he didn’t want to submit to the genital search. Briton Shaker Aamer also canceled an attorney meeting.

In 2013, during the height of a mass hunger strike at Guantánamo, the genital searches were the subject of litigation in U.S. court and were eventually discontinued by camp authorities. A judge who ordered the searches should be stopped wrote, “The choice between submitting to a search procedure that is religiously and culturally abhorrent or forgoing counsel effectively presents no choice for devout Muslims like petitioners.” 

Guantánamo staff have said the searchers involve “placing the guard’s hand as a wedge between the (detainee’s) scrotum and thigh … and using (a) flat hand to press against the groin to detect anything foreign attached to the body,” after which a guard “uses a flat hand to frisk the detainee’s buttocks to ensure no contraband is hidden there.”

Wisconsin’s criminal justice policies trap people of color in prison system | WiG cover story

The last line of “The Star Spangled Banner” proclaims America to be “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” But the “free” portion of that statement does not apply to a huge swath of the population, particularly people of color.

For decades, the United States has had the world’s largest prison population — by far. In 2013, the most recent year for which WiG could find consistent statistics, the nation’s federal and state prisons, along with its city and county jails, housed 2.2 million people tried as adults. Another 4.7 million adults were on probation or parole. Though just over 4 percent of the world’s population lives in the United States, we account for 22 percent of the world’s prisoners.

Put another way, the nation’s 2013  per capita incarceration rate stood at 716 per 100,000, which compares with a rate of about 100 per 100,000 citizens in most countries. One in 35 Americans is in some way caught up in the criminal justice system — and that involvement is racially suspect.

According the American Civil Liberties Union, while a white male’s chances of ever being jailed are 1 in 17, a Latino male’s odds are 1 in 6, and an African-American male’s astonishing odds are 1 in 3.

In Wisconsin, the racial disparity is even more pronounced: Six percent of Wisconsin’s population is African-American, but half of its prison population is black.


Mass incarceration stems to a great extent from the so-called “war on drugs,” an experiment that has been devastating to the U.S. The majority of those jailed in this country are non-violent drug offenders, and prejudice plays a strong role in who gets sent to prison for such offenses. For decades, crack cocaine offenders — mostly black — received far more severe punishments than white people arrested for possessing powder cocaine. A 2010 law reduced that sentencing disparity.

Nonetheless, in 2013, nearly three-fourths of people sentenced for drug offenses in federal court were Hispanic or black, according to federal statistics.

 “There are more blacks in prison (nationally) now than there were living under slavery in 1860,” says David Liners, director of the Wisconsin chapter of WISDOM, a justice reform group composed of faith-based organizations. 

“This is social experimentation on a grand scale,” he continues. “No one has ever experienced this before. Half the African-American community in Milwaukee and other cities is incarcerated and we pay so many prices — the price for kids without dads and people not working.”

The Wisconsin incarceration rate is likely to grow even higher due to recent laws that allow people to be thrown in jail for not paying fees ordered by the criminal justice system, such as traffic fines.

As a measure of how Wisconsin’s incarceration rate affects the whole state, Liners offers this statistic: The cost of corrections in Wisconsin now exceeds the budget for the entire UW system.


In addition to the failed “war on drugs,” there’s another reason why Wisconsin jails so many of its own: parole revocation for non-violent offenses. Under Wisconsin’s parole system, former inmates are sent back to jail for the entire duration of their sentences due to minor violations of parole. Mark Rice, who chairs WISDOM’s Revocations Workgroup, frequently cites the case of Hector Cubero as an example.

Cubero, 52, served 27 years behind bars for being a party to the crimes of first-degree murder and armed robbery when he was 18 years old. Evidence showed he played no role in the killing, and he had adjusted well to life outside prison.

But after four years on parole, he unwittingly gave a tattoo to a 15-year-old, which is a misdemeanor city ordinance violation. The maximum penalty is 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Cubero says the teen claimed to be of age, but Cubero still got sent back to  prison — possibly for the rest of his life.

The tattoo was of a cross and a quote from peace activist Marianne Williamson: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

Other states, including Alabama, North Carolina, Washington and Hawaii, have put limits on the amount of time that released inmates can be incarcerated for rules violations, which commonly include unauthorized computer or cell phone use, crossing county lines, missing appointments with probation officers and entering a bar. 

Parole revocations account for more than half of the 8,000 people entering Wisconsin prisons each year, and the practice costs Wisconsin taxpayers $100 million annually. 

Probation officers have control over parole revocation, and there are no uniform standards, according to Liners. One parolee might be sent back to prison simply for creating an unauthorized email account, while others are not sent back for more serious violations.

Parolees who are reincarcerated have no right to a lawyer or a trial. There is no requirement for proof beyond a reasonable doubt, even though parole revocation can send inmates back to prison for decades.

Liners says that revocation of parole is so commonly ordered by some probation officers that inmates released under their supervision don’t even try to avoid it. They assume they’ll be sent back no matter what they do, Liners says.

The subjectivity of the process allows personal prejudice to play a role, and African-Americans are disproportionately targeted, just as they are in policing. Half of parolees sent back to prison are African American.


A driving force behind the nation’s prison statistics is the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, which represents wealthy corporate interests, presents model-legislation templates to state representatives to take home to their Legislatures in exchange for campaign donations. During the 1980s and ’90s, ALEC began promoting laws to establish private, for-profit prisons and commercial bail-bonding companies, which corporate leaders saw as potentially lucrative new revenue sources. ALEC also pushed forward laws that would increase the prison population. 

Wisconsin has thus far declined to adopt either private bail bondsmen or private prisons.

Conditions in private prisons are notoriously worse than public ones and produce greater recidivism. 

“For-profit prisons are by their nature not consistent with any sort of rehabilitative goals,” says John Stedman, an organizer for Jonah, an ecumenical organization for justice issues in the Chippewa Valley. “I think the profit motive gets in the way of what justice and rehabilitation are about.” 

In June, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos squeezed an 11th-hour provision into the 2015–17 biennial budget that would have allowed for-profit bail bondsmen in the state, but Gov. Scott Walker vetoed it, saying that it needed public discussion. Vos, who reportedly hopes to take Walker’s place in the governor’s mansion, has vowed to introduce the measure for a full hearing in the near future.

But as an assemblyman, Walker was instrumental in setting the stage for Wisconsin’s mass-incarceration problem. Seeking to make a name for himself as a “tough on crime” leader, he introduced dozens of laws to lengthen criminal penalties for everything from perjury to intoxicated boating, according to a report published by The Nation in February.

In 1995, Walker spearheaded the shipping of Wisconsin inmates to out-of-state, for-profit prisons run by the Corrections Corporation of America, one of his major campaign donors. CCA was the recipient not only of Wisconsin inmates, but also about $45 million of Wisconsin taxpayers’ money before Gov. Tommy Thompson increased in-state capacity and ended the practice, according to Liners.

In the 1997–98 legislative session, Walker championed “truth-in-sentencing” laws, which eliminated the possibility of early release for good behavior or rehabilitation. In total, he sponsored or co-sponsored 27 different bills that expanded the definition of crimes and increased mandatory minimum sentences.

Prior to truth-in-sentencing, convicts who’d cooperated in prison were released after serving 67 percent of their sentences and completed their sentences under supervision.

Correction workers liked that policy, because it gave them a carrot and a stick to work with: If prisoners did as they were told, they could be released early, and if not they’d serve their entire sentences behind bars. 

Now the only stick correction officers have is solitary confinement, which is often needed just to house prisoners in overcrowded facilities. 

Under truth in sentencing, parole is meted out separately. Because so many harsh sentences were handed down to non-violent offenders, including people caught with small amounts of marijuana, that prisons quickly became overcrowded.  

Truth in sentencing has been particularly devastating in African-American communities. For example, despite similar rates of marijuana usage among blacks and whites, five times as many African-Americans in Milwaukee are arrested for marijuana possession as whites.

To alleviate prison overcrowding, Gov. Jim Doyle adopted a law allowing for early release of eligible prisoners. The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin praised the move.

But Walker restored truth in sentencing in 2011, noting that getting rid of the policy had only affected 479 inmates and produced “limited” savings. As a result of his action, the number of inmates paroled annually dropped precipitously. In 2008, 440 prisoners were paroled. But by 2013, that number had shrunk to 152. 

Walker’s union-busting Act 10 exacerbated the problem of prison overcrowding by causing a shortage of prison workers. As it did for teachers and other public workers, Act 10 took away correction officers’ rights to collective bargaining and increased by 18 percent their contributions for health and pension benefits. Many decided the job was too dangerous for the money and either retired or quit.

Now the state faces a critical shortage of qualified people willing to work in the prisons. And the challenges of Wisconsin’s prisons don’t stop there. As Liners puts it, “The Department of Corrections has a world of problems.”

As of April, 8 percent of positions for correction officers and sergeants in the state were unfilled — four times the rate of April 2010. As a result, overtime pay has spiked and personnel shortages have become so problematic at one facility that the state is paying mileage and hotel costs for guards who agree to work there on a temporary basis, according to a report compiled by the Daily Kos.


WISDOM wants to set limits on how long a parolee can be reincarcerated for minor parole violations and to end lengthy sentences for non-violent offenses, including drug possession. Liners says that addicts, alcoholics and people suffering from mental disorders belong in treatment rather than jail.

Reforming the nation’s sentencing laws and incarceration policies has bipartisan support. High-profile conservative leaders who support prison reform include anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, conservative pundit Bill Bennett and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. They agree with liberals that the current system is unnecessarily expensive, both to taxpayers and society. 

Norquist, who’s famous for asking political candidates to sign a “no new taxes” pledge, came to Madison in April to urge Wisconsin’s GOP lawmakers to end the state’s truth in sentencing laws.

According to madison.com, Norquist told his audience that prison reforms in Texas not only reduced incarceration rates, but also failed to create a voter backlash against the elected officials who supported them. Fear of being branded “soft on crime” prevents many elected officials, particularly on the political right, from getting behind prison reform.

In 2013, WISDOM launched a campaign in Wisconsin to cut the state’s 22,000 prison population in half. Given that each prisoner costs taxpayers about $35,000 per year, reducing the prison population by 11,000 would save $38.5 million annually, although there would have to be increased funding for counseling and supervision.

WIDSOM’s campaign, titled “11 x 15,” sought to bring Wisconsin’s prison population closer to that of Minnesota, which is demographically very similar to Wisconsin, but which had a prison population of 10,289 in 2013.

Although WISDOM failed to achieve its goal, Stedman says it raised awareness of the problem of ridiculously long sentences for non-violent offenders. Prison reform groups this year won a budget increase of from $1 million to $2.5 million annually for drug treatment programs — a small step in the right direction, but a step forward nonetheless, Stedman says. 

WISDOM is also promoting Treatment Alternative Diversion programs as a substitute for imprisoning non-violent drug offenders. TAD programs take people who are coming into or returning to the criminal justice system and divert them into community-based treatment programs for alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness. A model program in Eau Claire features four treatment courts — Drug, Alternatives to Incarcerating Mothers, Mental Health and Chippewa Valley Veterans — “as a diversion alternative for individuals facing jail or prison time as a result of pending charges or potential probation revocation,” according to the Eau Claire County website.

Stedman says the approach uses a spectrum of evidence-based strategies, and it has kept families together and reduced recidivism rates, among other benefits.

“If we could fully fund TADS, the impact would be huge,” Stedman says.

Taking 17-year-olds out of the adult prison population and putting them into juvenile detention facilities would also ease the pressure on Wisconsin prisons, according to WISDOM. A robust transitional jobs program would help reduce the reincarceration rate by supporting ex-inmates in successfully re-entering society.

State Rep. Mandela Barnes, D-11th District, introduced a bill on April 20 that would decriminalize possession of marijuana in amounts of 25 grams or less. People caught with small amounts of the drug would be fined as opposed to imprisoned. 

Several Democratic legislators are working on a bill that would reduce the amount of time parolees can be reincarcerated for minor rule violations.

“It’s something that we all agree we have to delve into but the actual bill has not been introduced,” says state Rep. David Bowen, D-10th District. “Things are just getting underway. We’ll attempt to standardize (the revocation process), but we want to have some flexibility. You have so many moving parts.”

State Rep. Chris Taylor, D-76th District, says, “There seems to be some momentum on both sides of the aisle to do something” to end mass incarceration in the state. She said a recent motion would have brought in people from the Department of Corrections to give a presentation on people who are eligible for parole but it hasn’t yet happened.

Taylor says of the many correction reforms lawmakers are looking at, there’s one in particular that stands out.

“They have to look at the racial disparity,” she says. “People of color do not do more drugs and they’re policed more for drugs. We need to look at the policies that treat people unfairly, and it starts with the drug crimes.”

California clears same-sex weddings for prison inmates – but not to other prisoners

California prison officials have confirmed that inmates can get married to someone of the same sex under certain conditions.

Michael Stainer, director of the adult institutions division for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations, issued a memo on Friday stating that the U.S. Supreme Court decision that made same-sex marriages legal again in the state in June also applies to prisoners.

But Stainer says gay or bisexual inmates will only be allowed to marry same-sex partners who are not incarcerated and only during prison ceremonies.

He says marriages between two prisoners would raise security concerns.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano said that Steiner’s directive was prompted by an inquiry from his office.

In 2007, California became the first state to allow conjugal visits and overnight stays for inmates with same-sex domestic partners.

Alabama policy of segregating inmates with HIV goes on trial

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.