Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘human rights watch

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.

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 »

Are Solitary Confinement Cells the New Asylums?

with one comment

That’s the argument made by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella in a recent report, “Locking Down the Mentally Ill” (Ridgeway and Casella maintain the excellent Solitary Watch blog):

While there are no national statistics to indicate how many mentally ill prisoners end up in lockdown, a 2003 report from Human Rights Watch, based on available data from states around the country, found one-third to one-half of prisoners held in what are usually called “secure housing units” (SHUs) and “special management units” (SMUs) were mentally ill.

The report concluded that “persons with mental illness often have difficulty complying with strict prison rules, particularly when there is scant assistance to help them manage their disorders….eventually accumulating substantial histories of disciplinary infractions, they land for prolonged periods in disciplinary or administrative segregation.”

In the session on mentally ill inmates at last week’s H.F. Guggenheim Symposium, Dr. Fred Osher, Director of Health Services for the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG), said the majority of mentally ill people in prisons and especially in jails are serving time for non-violent offenses, including minor drug offenses and so-called “quality of life” crimes associated with homelessness and substance abuse, As a report from the CSG’s Criminal Justice/Mental Health Consensus Project in 2002 puts it, many “have been incarcerated because they displayed in public the symptoms of untreated mental illness.” Osher said that the prison environment—noisy, overcrowded, predatory—inevitably causes these symptoms to get worse.

Written by sara

February 20, 2010 at 1:29 pm

%d bloggers like this: