HIV-Positive Male Inmates in Alabama Prison Allowed to Attend Educational, Vocational Programs
About 200 HIV-positive male inmates at the Athens, Ala., Limestone Correctional Facility on Monday were permitted to attend educational and vocational programs, bringing to an end the state's practice of segregating HIV-positive prisoners from other inmates, the Birmingham News reports (Crowder, Birmingham News, 1/20). Alabama had been the only state to adhere to a policy of total segregation of HIV-positive prisoners. In a report issued in September, the Alabama Governor's HIV Commission for Children, Youth and Adults said that the state's policy of excluding inmates from such programs "simply on the basis of HIV status, has no public health or correctional justification." The report recommended that the state's HIV-positive inmates be allowed to participate in all of the educational, vocational and community-based programs available to other inmates (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/24/03). However, the change in policy does not apply to HIV-positive female inmates, who remain segregated and unable to participate in classes at the Tutwiler Correctional Facility, the AP/Biloxi Sun-Herald reports. Margaret Winter, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project, and advocates from AIDS Alabama have called for Prison Commissioner Donal Campbell to change the policy at Tutwiler as well, according to the AP/Sun-Herald (AP/Biloxi Sun-Herald, 1/20). Winter said, "Since 1987, prisoners with HIV/AIDS in Alabama have fought to receive the same opportunities to learn and rehabilitate themselves as other prisoners. Today male prisoners with HIV are closer to equality in Alabama then they have ever been before" (Birmingham News, 1/20).
Medical care and conditions at Limestone, which houses all of the state's HIV-positive male inmates, have been at the center of a class-action lawsuit, Leatherwood et al. v. Campbell, filed in 2002, the AP/Sun-Herald reports (AP/Biloxi Sun-Herald, 1/20). The Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights in August 2003 released a report on the medical treatment and living conditions of the 300-person HIV unit at Limestone as part of the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama by the center against the Alabama Department of Corrections and Birmingham-based NaphCare, the prison system's medical contractor. The 125-page report, written by Dr. Stephen Tabet, an infectious disease expert, provides a detailed case summary of the deaths of 38 HIV-positive inmates between 1999 and 2002 and concludes that the unit's medical care system is substandard. Tabet in the report says that nearly all of the 38 deaths he investigated were "preceded by a failure to provide proper medical care or treatment" and all of the deaths were caused by "preventable illnesses." In October 2003, all of the facility's 237 inmates were moved into new two-person units, which prisoners' lawyers said was a victory in reducing the spread of infectious diseases. HIV-positive inmates previously were housed in a converted warehouse. However, many other problems remain, including a lack of access to antiretroviral drugs, the lawyers said (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/27/03). Limestone's medical staff has said that medical care has improved, but the lawsuit remains unsettled, the AP/Sun-Herald reports. Attorneys for the inmates lauded the state's policy change, saying it was "long overdue," and called for more improvements, according to the AP/Sun-Herald. Gretchen Rohr, an attorney with Atlanta-based firm Holland and Knight, which is working with the Southern Center for Human Rights on the case, said, "They want to appear they've put their best foot forward before they're in front of a federal judge" (AP/Biloxi Sun-Herald, 1/20).