Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘aids/hiv in prison

South Carolina Will Likely Miss Today’s DOJ Deadline to Change Its HIV Segregation Policy

leave a comment »

From the AP, an update on the looming lawsuit over the South Carolina prison system’s HIV-segregation policy. Unless something changes today, the stage is set for the DOJ to file suit:

The state faces a Wednesday deadline [i.e., today] to change the practice, which prison officials say is best for inmates and prison employees.

All state prisons “are safer from a public health perspective and a security perspective as a direct result of this program,” Corrections Department attorney David Tatarsky wrote in an August response to the Department of Justice.

More than 400 HIV-positive inmates are housed together at maximum security prisons in Columbia, including some who would not usually be in such high-security facilities. …

The report argued that HIV-positive inmates don’t have access to the same programs and jobs as other prisoners and are wrongly stigmatized. They are also prevented from participating in work-release programs, meaning they can’t earn credits to shorten their sentences.

“That inevitably means that they serve longer sentences and are essentially being warehoused for no reason other than a medical condition,” Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said Tuesday.

For background, see my earlier posts here and here, and the conversation on this issue a few weeks back chez Adam Serwer and the Daily Dish.

“Should prisons have government-sanctioned tattoo shops?”

leave a comment »

The question above is the title of this Slate piece, in which Jessica Wapner argues that the answer is yes:

Saving money and protecting guards aren’t the only reasons to embrace government-sanctioned prison tattoo shops. We should also keep in mind how much suffering is in store for inmates who contract HCV. These are persuasive arguments for government-sanctioned prison tattoo shops. Because the disease is silent, up to 75 percent of those with HCV don’t even know they’re infected until it’s too late for treatment. Many people do not respond to the currently available medications, and liver transplants are costly and not always available. Although some patients do spontaneously recover, most don’t, and there is no way to predict who will develop end-stage complications, which include cirrhosis and cancer. …

Still, as a strategy to reduce HCV transmission, safer-tattooing initiatives are not without problems: For instance, a lot of prison-borne tattoos signify gang associations; and during the Canadian pilot program, other inmates reportedly preferred the work of prisoners not employed at the shop. A safe-tattoo program would have to forbid such body art, so some market for DIY tattooing would remain.

Given that American prisons generally don’t even have needle-exchange or methadone programs, which many other countries have used to stave the spread of bloodborne diseases behind bars, I’m a bit skeptical of the likelihood that there might conceivably be legislative or public support for safe-tattoo programs. But Wapner flips the equation, suggesting that maybe legal prison tattooing could serve “as a steppingstone toward public acceptance of prison needle-exchange programs.” Any thoughts, readers?

Written by sara

September 20, 2010 at 7:40 am

More on the Poisonous Punditry Surrounding South Carolina’s HIV-Segregation Policy

with 4 comments

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: Read the rest of this entry »

Mississippi Ends Policy of Segregating Prisoners with HIV

with one comment

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.

%d bloggers like this: