Posts Tagged ‘south carolina’
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.
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 »
The DOJ Civil Rights Division has threatened to sue South Carolina over its policy of segregating HIV-positive inmates from the rest of the prison population — an outdated practice in which South Carolina, along with Alabama, is now virtually alone among the states. (Mississippi abolished its HIV-segregation policy a few months ago.) Here’s the response of Jon Ozmint, the director of South Carolina’s prison system:
“This is about left-wing politics controlling the United States Justice Department,” Ozmint said. “This is about whether you want more AIDS or less AIDS.”
Never mind that, as Adam Serwer points out, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch have documented a host of ways in which the segregation of HIV-positive prisoners imposes additional punishment and hardship on top of their judicially-mandated sentence, or that the World Health Organisation has said the practice is “costly, inefficient, and can have negative health consequences for segregated prisoners.” Never mind that 44 of the U.S. prison systems that once segregated HIV-positive inmates, pursuant to policies adopted in the early days of the epidemic, no longer do so. Ozmint’s position has been hailed by at least one pundit as a vanguard policy, “effective and humane,” and Ozmint himself as “refreshing” for describing being incarcerated as “a voluntary activity.” One blog, in a particularly odious formulation, accuses the DOJ of seeking to enshrine “HIV transmission” as a “‘civil right.’” A blogger at the Daily Caller writes, “The Justice Department wants you to get AIDS and die.”
The notion underlying this punditry — that the only way prisons can prevent the transmission of HIV is to cordon off HIV-positive inmates and subject them to additional stigma and isolation — rests on some very ugly assumptions about prisoners, HIV-positive men and women, and the responsibilities of prison guards to protect those in their charge. The notion is also belied by the reality that 48 states and the federal prison system do not segregate HIV-positive inmates. Read the rest of this entry »
Over the past few months I’ve been following the progress of legislation in South Carolina to divert nonviolent offenders out of prison. (My earlier posts on the Palmetto State are rounded up here.) The bill has now become law — Doug Berman at Sentencing Law & Policy has a helpful round-up of coverage.
The Palmetto State has seen its prison population triple since 1983, with much of that increase coming from nonviolent offenders and — similar to, although not as extreme as, California — technical parole violators. According to the Sentencing Project’s interactive map (which, by the way, is a great source of data), South Carolina currently incarcerates over 36,000 men and women, with another 40,000+ on probation or parole, all at a cost of $629 million per year. Though it’s worth noting that unlike some other states, the incarceration rate in South Carolina is not hugely disparate between blacks and whites (the ratio is 1.1:1 — compare, for instance, Connecticut, which has a 6.6:1 ratio. As you can see, the “Compare by States” feature of the Sentencing Project map is really handy). The combination of budget woes and prison overcrowding came to a head in South Carolina earlier this year, when the state had to decide whether to release 3,000 prisoners or run a $29 million deficit.
With the goals of hemming in prison spending and alleviating overcrowding, the South Carolina legislature is currently considering a proposal to provide alternate sanctions for nonviolent offenders. Here’s a description of the bill, from a Greenville News editorial in favor of the legislation:
The bill further defines violent and nonviolent crimes, calls for streamlining sentencing to ensure there is room in state prisons for the most violent offenders, and reduces sentences for some nonviolent crimes. It also establishes options for community-based programs such as the drug courts that have been effective in Greenville County.
The changes were proposed by the legislatively appointed Sentencing Reform Commission and were published earlier this year. The need for sentencing reform is evident. … Nearly half of the system’s inmates are being held for nonviolent offenses. …
According to the Sentencing Reform Commission, the proposed changes would save taxpayers $92 million in Corrections’ operating costs over five years. They also would save Corrections the estimated $317 million it would cost to add the prison space that would be needed absent the changes.
It’s worth noting, though, that the bill would also lengthen some sentences: the Orangeburg Times and Democrat reports, for instance, that it would increase the maximum penalty for attempted murder to 30 years (from a current maximum of 10 years).
For the past 30 years or so, “lock ‘em up” rhetoric has been the norm at the state and local level of discussion about criminal justice policy. (And this type of rhetoric is still quite prevalent: Here’s a somewhat alarmist editorial from the Tampa Tribune that begins — I kid you not — “Let’s hear a round of applause for prisons.” Moreover, check out the comments section of any local news article on prison or jail issues, and you will see a steady stream of “lock ‘em up” sentiment.) Of course, no one is in favor of crime, but the notion that there might be valid strategies for punishing wrongdoers and protecting public safety other than mass incarceration — strategies that might even be more effective, less expensive, and more just — has often been characterized as a fringe view or one that is insufficiently “tough on crime”.
But recently, I have started to wonder if the tide of unquestioning support for mass incarceration is finally turning. Suddenly local politicians and commentators around the country seem willing to state openly that states simply can’t afford the costs of locking up so many of their citizens. I am curious to hear whether readers perceive the same shift in rhetoric. Of course, perhaps I shouldn’t be too optimistic, since rhetoric is one thing, and actually implementing policy change is another. Moreover, I wish it had not taken an economic crisis to force Americans to reconsider the wisdom of mass incarceration (although it is better than nothing). I hope that we will also begin to see more mainstream discussion of the human costs of mass incarceration. Otherwise, the next time the economy is doing well, states may be tempted to return to the old policies.
In any event, here’s a roundup of local commentary along these lines, from the past couple of days alone: