Mississippi Ends Policy of Segregating Prisoners with HIV
Beginning this May, the Mississippi Department of Corrections will end its longstanding policy of segregating male prisoners with HIV (see this ACLU press release). Expected to affect about 150 prisoners in the Mississippi system, the change will allow HIV-positive prisoners to participate in job training and education programs formerly denied to them because they were in segregated custody. Mississippi’s decision leaves Alabama and South Carolina as the only remaining states that still segregate HIV-positive prisoners. The decision was spurred by recent requests from the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, though after a complicated history of ACLU involvement. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports:
The ACLU brought suit against the state in 1990 on behalf of HIV-positive prisoners housed at Parchman to force the state to provide proper medical care. In 2005, U.S. District Court Judge Jerry Davis ruled MDOC had addressed problems with prisoner conditions, bringing the suit to an end.
[Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Christopher] Epps said he would have ended segregation of the prisoners then, but the ACLU asked they be kept separate.
“The ACLU asked us not to (move the prisoners) because they were concerned about the inmates going out into general population as it relates to their safety,” he said. “After they contacted me and asked me about it, I said, ‘Well, this would have been done if you hadn’t asked me not to do it.'”
ACLU spokesman Will Matthews said the organization initially was concerned prisoners held in the unit would be ostracized and subject to possible violence if they were immediately introduced into the general population because other prisoners would know they were HIV positive.
Epps has taken a “nuanced” approach to the problem, by phasing out the policy, Matthews said.