HIV-Positive Inmates Kept Isolated in Some Parts of U.S.

Inmates who are H.I.V. positive in Alabama and South Carolina — †but nowhere else in the U.S. — are kept isolated from other prisoners in order to (say authorities) prevent the virus that causes AIDS from spreading and to keep medical costs down. To the inmates, this policy means they are treated separately and not equally, but stigmatized as if they were modern-day lepers, says a New York Times report.

The notion that the H.I.V. virus can be caught from food or airborne contact has most been debunked by experts. Indeed, other viruses, such as†hepatitis B and C, are far more infectious than H.I.V.

In most states, H.I.V.-positive inmates are given powerful antiretroviral drugs to stem H.I.V. infection.†Peter K. Cutler, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, notes that inmates are “not required to self-identify as being H.I.V. positive” when they are in custody.

H.I.V.-Positive Inmates Stigmatized in Alabama

A closer look at Alabama’s treatment of inmates who are H.I.V. positive more than suggests that it is set up with the convenience of the corrections system in mind, rather than for the benefit of prisoners.

About 270 of Alabama’s 26,400 inmates are H.I.V.-positive. They †are housed in special dormitories — one for men, one for women — at two state prisons, Limestone Correctional Facility and the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.

The ways in which H.I.V.-positive inmates are marked as “different” are many: they wear white plastic armbands identifying their condition (prison staff say these identify the dorm they are in rather than the disease); they eat alone (“for space reasons,” according to Kim T. Thomas, the Alabama Corrections Department commissioner); they cannot transfer to prisons where they would be closer to their families; they cannot live in dormitories specifically dedicated to elderly or religious inmates; they cannot visit with classmates in a substance-abuse program; they cannot have jobs involving working around food. Only for the past three years have they been able to attend prison-wide church services.

Some inmates interviewed by the†New York Times note that they have been literally isolated — kept in solitary confinement — for †a month while their diagnosis was being confirmed.

Officials point out that, as Alabama spends about $22,000 per year on treating H.I.V.-positive inmates, the total exceeds “the cost of medicine for all other inmates.”†Alabama corrections officials claim that in effect quarantining H.I.V.-positive inmates means that fewer doctors are needed; that no inmates have developed AIDS; that the inmates enjoy “perks” including air conditioning and private cells. By restricting all H.I.V.-positive to so few facilities, the state (it is said) can provide a higher level of care for them.

Alabama’s Policy Deprives Prisoners of Their Rights

That is a debatable point. By isolating inmates who are H.I.V.-positive, Alabama is depriving them of access to basic social and human contact. As†Margaret Winter, the associate director of the A.C.L.U.ís National Prison Project, tells the†New York Times,

“Nothing is more important for successful re-entry than to be within visiting distance of your family and to have real work experience. They are denied that.”

Via work-release programs, fast food restaurants employ inmates among the general population. But H.I.V.-positive inmates are deprived of such opportunities.

Dr. Frederick L. Altice, the director of the H.I.V. in Prisons Program at the Yale School of Medicine, puts the point simply: †”Alabama is living in an incredibly anachronistic world.†Time has changed, and they have not.”

In response to a class action lawsuit brought by the ACLU in September, a federal judge,†Myron H. Thompson of the Middle District of Alabama, is to rule on the state’s policy of isolating H.I.V.-positive inmates this week. Alabama and South Carolina must change their discriminatory policies towards inmates who are H.I.V.-positive in the name not only of their health and safety, but for basic human dignity.

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons


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Steven Silas
Steven Silas3 years ago

There should be less of a stigma associated with HIV. However, I do think certain precautions are needed.

Mary C.
Mary C.3 years ago

How the f*(*&^# is this segregation? Some of you are idiots. WHY then do they separate people with TB??? Even OUTSIDE of prison they ask people to stay quarantined. WHY??? For the protection of others. Most of the people in prison ARE there because they ARE guilty of committing a crime, so they obviously think rules, regulations and laws are NOT for them. They already ARE HIV positive. Do you think they give a rats ass about giving someone else HIV if they could care less about following the law??? Hell no. Dig your heads out of Fantasyland and join the real world for once.

Segregation? Please. I didn't realize there were so many morons out there. So how are the prison guards supposed to know if someone is HIV positive?? They have RIGHT to know so they can't protect themselves against people who obviously feel laws are meant for anyone BUT them.

Here come the whiners. "Oh no. We can't possibly let anyone know who is HIV positive in prison. That would violate their rights" Well, that skates out the window when they committed the crime. The safety and protection of others comes first. It CAN'T be both ways. Stay out of trouble. HIV positive or not.

And can you imagine being wrongfully imprisoned, and being gang raped by the diseased scumbags and contracting HIV. Nope. We need to further protect others by separating them so its known who to protect yourself FROM.

Mary C.
Mary C.3 years ago

I bet those of you who disagree with this would change your tune in a second if you ended up in prison.

First we need to let out all non violent drug offenders. Hooker too. Who cares if one broad wants 50 bucks for sex and the other will have sex if you take her to dinner and a movie. NOW we have room for hardened, violent criminals. One side of the prison for HIV and the other for non HIV. Its not racial or anything like that, so get over it. If it protects one person, inmate OR prison employee from being deliberately being infected by an HIV positive inmate then its worth it.

Mary C.
Mary C.3 years ago

At the rate that rape occurs in prisons, this is a wise decision to prevent further spread of a deadly disease. Anyone who thinks otherwise is an idiot. Don't like it, don't commit the crime. HIV prisoners have been know to spit at and bite the corrections officers. The employees at a prison should not have to risk this every day of their lives.

Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

I can see where a prisoner who is HIV positive could intentionally infect others. There have been known cases where HIV positive people have had sex with others with the sole purpose of infecting them, so why not those in a penitentiary? If there is a way to insure that won't happen, then isolating the HIV positive population wouldn't even be a consideration, but how would that be done?

Christopher M.
Christopher M.3 years ago

There is a way (research methods) to estimate the prevalence of something under 50% in any population, without taking names. Simply have them flip a coin, and ask, select Yes if you got heads OR if you were raped by an inmate. Subtract 50% from the total because the two events are independent of each other. There is your prevalence rate....

There is no way to know if a specific inmate is reporting abuse or if he simply got heads. Only God would know, and you have your statistics.

Christopher M.
Christopher M.3 years ago

Now I did visit a penitentary when I was 21. I am not sure who makes the food for the guards and warden. It seemed to be self serve. I am not sure what the inmates eat- hamburger???

Also I was an employee at the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, MD in 1997, for a week. Again I don't know who made the food or if the inmates eat the same.

Christopher M.
Christopher M.3 years ago

Ann has a damn good point. They spread HIV in prison, basically, although I have no experience to back that up...