Alabama Policy Denies Work Release to HIV/AIDS Infected Prisoners
by David M. Reutter
Citing a 2004 settlement that requires proper care for prisoners infected with HIV or AIDS, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) is denying such prisoners the opportunity to participate in work release programs.
The closest thing to freedom for an ADOC prisoner is work release, as it allows prisoners to hold jobs on the outside, earn money and wear street clothes. Work release ultimately “means less crime, fewer people returning to prison, and ultimately it means a safer society for everybody,” noted David Fathi, Director of the U.S. Program of Human Rights Watch and former senior staff counsel for the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “So by denying work release to inmates with HIV who would otherwise be eligible, Alabama is shooting itself in the foot,” he said.
ADOC officials claim that in order to comply with the settlement in a lawsuit filed over prisoner medical care, they have to closely monitor HIV and AIDS-infected prisoners. Otherwise, ADOC administrators allege, they could not assure those prisoners were taking their medications and eating properly. While that rationale may sound reasonable, the ADOC’s position appears to be grounded more in fear and prejudice.
To justify the prison system’s policy of prohibiting prisoners with HIV or AIDS from participating in work release, ADOC Associate Commissioner of Health Services Ruth Naglich said, “I think we have to ensure that healthy, responsible inmates are those participating and not those who are going to exhibit risky behavior such as intravenous drug use or promiscuous sexual behavior if they’re allowed to go into the community.”
Naglich’s remarks fail to recognize that prisoners who are denied work release will eventually be released into the community when their sentences expire, anyway.
Moreover, such an attitude improperly stereotypes all prisoners with HIV or AIDS.
In fact, the ADOC’s prohibitive work release policy is a threat to society because it deprives otherwise eligible prisoners from engaging in work programs that will help them successfully integrate into the community following their release.
“I’m a worker,” said Kathryn Canty, an HIV-positive prisoner who was denied work release on her four-and-a-half-year sentence for forgery and theft. “Work release would have been a great help for me to catch up with technology as well as saving money to get back on my feet.”
The ADOC policy denies work release to the 15 women and 278 male prisoners, on average, who are infected with HIV or AIDS and housed in a medical unit. Alabama is apparently the only state that bars HIV-positive prisoners from work release programs.
Sources: Associated Press, advocate.com
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