Judge Blocks Alabama Policy That Segregated HIV Inmates

An Alabama judge struck down the state’s decades-old policy of segregating prison inmates with HIV, ruling Friday that it violates federal law.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of seven HIV-positive inmates, called the decision “historic.” State officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Alabama and South Carolina are the only states that segregate HIV-positive prisoners. The class-action lawsuit accused the state of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“It spells an end to a segregation policy that has inflicted needless misery on Alabama prisoners with HIV and their families,” said ACLU attorney Margaret Winter, who served as the lead counsel for the plaintiffs during a month-long trial.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of inmates with HIV has decreased by about three prevent between 2005 and 2006. However, there was an increase in prison population. In 2007, 12 percent of Latino inmates died from AIDS-related deaths in state prisons.  Then in 2008, out of over 21,000 inmates, almost two percent were reported to be living with HIV or AIDS.

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In a 153-page opinion, Thompson recounted the history of the AIDS scare during the 1980s, noting the extreme rarity of HIV being transmitted by any means other than sharing bodily fluids, particularly during unprotected sex.

Alabama’s policy resulted from a “panic” over AIDS in prison, wrote Thompson. While other states have ended similar practices, he said, Alabama hasn’t because of “outdated and unsupported assumptions about HIV and the prison system’s ability to deal with HIV-positive “prisoners.”

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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