Alabama and South Carolina are subjecting HIV-positive prisoners to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” by segregating them in violation of international law, two leading U.S. rights groups said on Wednesday.
Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project said in a report the two southern states were the last in the United States to combine mandatory HIV testing with immediate isolation and segregation for those inmates who tested positive.
They called for an immediate end to the policy.
The 45-page report, “Sentenced to Stigma: Segregation of HIV-Positive Prisoners in Alabama and South Carolina,” said prisoners in the HIV units were forced to wear armbands or other indicators of their HIV status and to eat and even worship separately. They were denied equal participation in prison jobs, programs, and re-entry opportunities that facilitate their transition back into society.
“The segregation and discrimination against HIV-positive prisoners continues to this day in Alabama and South Carolina, and constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of international law,” the report said.
Another southern state, Mississippi, had also until recently applied the same segregation policy, but after reviewing the findings of the report before its publication last month ended the practice, HRW and the ACLU National Prison Project said.
“There is no medical or other justification for separating prisoners with HIV from the rest of the prison population,” Megan McLemore, health researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement accompanying the report.
“Like past policies of racial segregation, segregating prisoners with HIV is discriminatory, and the harm it causes extends well beyond the person’s prison term,” McLemore added.
The report said Alabama and South Carolina prisoners in the HIV designated units faced stigma, harassment, and systematic discrimination.
It quoted one Alabama HIV-positive prisoner, Adam D., as saying: “Once they put you in the lockup at reception, you’re a marked man.” Other HIV-positive inmates said guards routinely called them “punks and faggots” and told them to “get our sick asses out of the way.”
In Alabama, HIV-positive prisoners were ineligible for “faith-based” or “honor” dormitories and for residential drug treatment or pre-release programs, the report said.
HIV-positive prisoners in South Carolina may not work at the house of the prison director, join the bloodhound security detail, or earn “trusty” status - elite jobs that are earned through good behavior, it added.
The report noted that officials in the two states argued that segregation was necessary to provide medical care and to prevent HIV transmission.
“Segregation of persons living with HIV is no longer justifiable inside or outside of prison. Prison systems throughout the United States and around the world are providing medical care for HIV and preventing its transmission while respecting human rights,” the report said.
“Alabama and South Carolina can, and should, end their own isolation by reforming these policies without delay,” HRW and the ACLU National Prison Project said, adding that the segregation of HIV-positive prisoners could not be justified under human rights treaties ratified by the United States.