ACLU Applauds Alabama's Move to Open Rehabilitative Programming to HIV+ Prisoners

Affiliate: ACLU of Alabama
January 19, 2004 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Alabama
Media Contact
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New York, NY 10004
United States

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MONTGOMERY, AL- The American Civil Liberties Union commends the reversal of a nearly 20-year-old segregation policy within the Alabama Department of Corrections that led to today’s integration of HIV+ prisoners into educational and vocational training programs.

“Since 1987, prisoners with HIV/AIDS in Alabama have fought to receive the same opportunities to learn and rehabilitate themselves as other prisoners,” said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “Today male prisoners with HIV are closer to equality in Alabama than they have ever been before.”

After months of speculation and a comprehensive report from the Governor’s HIV Commission for Children, Youth and Adults recommending full integration of HIV+ prisoners into prison programming, Commissioner Donal Campbell announced the policy change two weeks ago. Prisoners living with HIV/AIDS at the Limestone Correctional Facility are scheduled today to begin attending in-prison programs with prisoners housed in general population.

In a letter to Commissioner Campbell sent last week, the ACLU inquired about plans to integrate women prisoners who are HIV+ and emphasized the need for HIV/AIDS education in prison. “One factor that we all believe is essential in ensuring a completely successful and peaceful transition to program integration is appropriate HIV education for all staff and prisoners,” the ACLU letter said.

The only state prison system other than Alabama to retain total HIV segregation into the 1990s was Mississippi. After a broad campaign by the ACLU, prisoners, prisoners’ family members, and local and national advocates, Mississippi integrated its in-prison programs in 2001. The change was preceded by comprehensive HIV/AIDS education for prisoners and staff, and has been an unqualified success.

“With today’s policy change, Alabama now joins Mississippi in starting to bring its HIV prison policies in line with national standards,” says Winter.

Today’s policy change follows a long history of litigation and advocacy opposing Alabama’s segregation of prisoners with HIV/AIDS. In 1987, the ACLU’s National Prison Project filed a lawsuit on behalf of prisoners with HIV contesting their exclusion from prison programs. After an unsuccessful trial, an appeal to the 11th Circuit in 1991 resulted in a reversal of the trial court’s decision and called for a new trial. In 1995, the trial court ruled against the prisoners again, saying any risk of transmission, no matter how implausible, was a significant risk and warranted segregation and exclusion of HIV+ prisoners from rehabilitative programs. After another appeal that went up to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Alabama policy was left intact and prisoners with HIV committed to continuing their long struggle for quality medical care and equal access to prison programs.

“Today’s end to educational and vocational programming segregation in Alabama marks a milestone for HIV/AIDS activism,” said Jackie Walker, HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis Information Coordinator for the National Prison Project. “This new opportunity for HIV+ prisoners may be too late for many former and deceased prisoners, but it will dramatically improve the lives of current HIV+ prisoners and allow them to begin the long road to rehabilitation and re-entry to society.”

The ACLU letter to Alabama’s DOC Commissioner follows.

January 12, 2004

Donal Campbell

Commissioner

Alabama Department of Corrections

1400 Lloyd Street

Montgomery AL 36107

VIA FACSIMILE AND MAIL

Dear Commissioner Campbell:

We commend you on your decision to implement program integration for prisoners living with HIV/AIDS. Recent articles in the Mobile Register and Montgomery Advertiser discussing the change in policy focused on access to educational and vocational programs for prisoners living with HIV/AIDS at the Limestone Correctional Facility. Could you let us know whether similar access will be soon made available to the women with HIV/AIDS at Julia Tutwiler Prison? We hope that soon they will be allowed to sign up for the waiting lists for various programs.

One factor that we all believe is essential in ensuring a completely successful and peaceful transition to program integration is appropriate HIV education for all staff and prisoners. Please keep in mind that AIDS Alabama, which has considerable experience in this field and partnerships with all ten of the AIDS Service Organizations in the state, would gladly assist ADOC during this transition if you believe this assistance could be helpful.

Sincerely,

Margaret Winter
Associate Director
ACLU National Prison Project

Kathie Hiers
Chief Executive Officer
AIDS Alabama

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