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Mississippi Stops Segregating HIV-positive Prisoners

On March 17, 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) had agreed to stop segregating prisoners with HIV. The policy change followed two decades of efforts by the ACLU, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other advocacy organizations.

The decision to end the segregation of HIV-positive prisoners was made by MDOC Commissioner Christopher Epps prior to a forthcoming report by the ACLU and HRW detailing the negative effects of such discriminatory policies, which are still in force in Alabama and South Carolina.

“Commissioner Epps deserves a tremendous amount of credit for making this courageous decision to replace a policy based on irrational HIV prejudice with a policy based on science, sound correctional practice, and respect for human rights,” stated Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “The remaining segregation policies in South Carolina and Alabama are a remnant of the early days of the HIV epidemic and continue to stigmatize prisoners and inflict them and their
families with a tremendous amount of needless suffering.”

Health care experts have long agreed that there is no justifiable medical reason to segregate people with HIV in correctional settings, or to prevent them from participating in educational and vocational programs afforded to other prisoners. In 2004, a federal court ordered Mississippi to allow HIV-positive prisoners to participate in the MDOC’s community work centers. [See: PLN, Feb. 2005, p.39].

Under the new policy, Mississippi prisoners with HIV will be able to “participate in jobs, training programs, and other services to which they were previously denied access because of their HIV status and which are designed to prepare prisoners for a productive return to society,” the ACLU stated.

The desegregation of HIV-positive prisoners will also improve their living conditions, and will help to de-stigmatize them from the rest of the prison population. “Prisoners with HIV were often forced to live in cruel, inhumane and degrading conditions, and we’re delighted that Mississippi has changed its policy,” said Megan McLemore, a health researcher for HRW.

Source: ACLU press release

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