More on the Poisonous Punditry Surrounding South Carolina’s HIV-Segregation Policy
Yesterday I blogged about the latest teapot-tempest in the online echo chamber: outrage over the DOJ’s threatened lawsuit over South Carolina’s policy of segregating HIV-positive inmates (outrage which seems to be motivated by a desire to score political points against the Obama Administration rather than genuine concern for inmates, and which seems to be informed by little to no research into the broader issue of prison transmission of HIV/AIDS). Today I just wanted to highlight one particular passage from J. Christian Adams’s Washington Examiner column:
The DOJ is in a lose-lose situation. Even if DOJ wins a lawsuit, sources tell me South Carolina is simply going to cancel all of the special testing, treatment and counseling, thereby saving the state $2 million a year.
Instead, the state will dump infected prisoners into the general population, and nobody will know they have AIDS. Worse, prisoners who come to prison with HIV/AIDS will never know they have the disease and their lives will be shortened because the testing program will end.
Special counseling would end, too.
First, note how both Adams and his “sources” (seemingly SC’s prison director, Jon Ozmint) conflate mandatory testing, forced disclosure of status, and residential segregation with the far less objectionable — indeed, laudable — practices of providing testing, counseling, and treatment for HIV-positive prisoners. Second, note that Adams’s “sources” have either been unfairly paraphrased or, if paraphrased accurately, are just posturing, because Ozmint surely well knows that the system he oversees has an Eighth Amendment obligation not to exhibit “deliberate indifference” towards prisoners’ known, serious medical needs. While the case law is mixed on prisons’ specific obligations towards inmates diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, it’s a safe bet that cutting off literally “all” testing, treatment, and counseling for such inmates would not pass Eighth Amendment muster.
Finally, note how both Adams and Ozmint utterly ignore the real issue here, which is not about medical treatment, but basic principles of fairness and due process: South Carolina’s policy means that, purely by virtue of a diagnosis, HIV-positive prisoners in South Carolina may serve longer and harsher sentences than their non-HIV-positive counterparts who’ve committed similar crimes. As reported by Human Rights Watch:
In South Carolina, all HIV-positive prisoners – regardless of the severity of their offense – are housed at Broad River facility for men or Camille Graham prison for women, both maximum security prisons that also house death row prisoners. Assigned to a high-security facility without regard to criminal background and denied the ability to transfer to pre-release and re-entry programs at other units, prisoners with HIV serve longer sentences, under the harsher conditions inside maximum security facilities, than prisoners who are not HIV-positive.
Prisoners living with HIV are barred from numerous prison jobs that earn extra work credits that apply toward early release. South Carolina is the only state in the union to prohibit HIV-positive prisoners from participating in work-release programs.