California Prison System’s Use of Unsterilized Hairclippers Exposed Inmates to HIV, Hepatitis, Class-Action Lawsuit Alleges
Twelve AIDS activists representing various organizations and backed by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) in Los Angeles yesterday announced the filing of a class-action lawsuit asking the federal courts to prohibit California prisons from using unsterilized instruments to cut inmates' hair, the Los Angeles Times reports. The activists said that "thousands" of inmates have been exposed to HIV or hepatitis through "unsanitary" haircuts. The class-action suit is an effort to support former inmate James Stern, who said he had earlier filed his own suit regarding prison haircutting practices. Stern said he was put in solitary confinement when he refused to have his hair cut after seeing inmates with "bleeding scalps after getting haircuts with unsterilized instruments." Russ Heimerich, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections, said that although the prison system is exempt from following sterilization procedures recommended by the state Bureau of Barbering and Cosmetology, the agency has adopted the guidelines and sterilizes instruments between haircuts. "We don't believe that the risk of getting AIDS or hepatitis from a haircut in prison is any greater than anywhere else," Heimerich said. He added that the fact that Stern, who ultimately agreed to getting haircuts at the prison, has not contracted HIV or hepatitis "weakens his suit." Although there are no reported cases of HIV or hepatitis being spread by blood on haircutting implements in the United States, Dr. Paul Simon, a Los Angeles County Department of Health Services physician, said that both viruses could potentially be spread that way. Margaret Wilson, a lawyer representing those who filed the suit, said depositions will be taken to "prove there is a danger" (Reich, Los Angeles Times, 3/12).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.