MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA - November 1 - After years of advocacy by the American Civil Liberties Union, AIDS Alabama and state legislators, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has agreed to give HIV-positive prisoners greater access to visitation, educational programs, substance abuse treatment programs, and religious services. Until now, HIV-positive prisoners have been denied these programs and services offered to the general population of inmates.
The changes were announced in a recent letter from ADOC Commissioner Richard F. Allen to the ACLU of Alabama stating that he implemented a review of prison policies and procedures as a result of a September 28 letter from the ACLU. The ACLU letter urged Commissioner Allen to put an immediate end to grossly discriminatory segregation policies and practices being enforced by the ADOC.
"Alabama's HIV segregation policy has for many years been a shameful remnant of an earlier time and Commissioner Allen's wise decision to modify this degrading policy will bring about far-reaching benefits for all Alabamans," said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. "Many more improvements need to be made, but this is an important first step."
Alabama remains the only state in the union to segregate HIV-positive prisoners and exclude them from some prison programs. At Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Alabama, female HIV-positive prisoners continue to be housed in total segregation from the general population. Before the recent changes, they were given only the most limited access to chapel, family visits, library, and all the other programs and activities available to the general population, and were kept strictly isolated behind barbed-wire fences.
At Limestone Correctional Facility, the men's prison in Harvest, Alabama, HIV-positive men also remain housed in total segregation from the general population. They were previously given only limited access to exercise, religious services, substance abuse programs, work opportunities, and community corrections programs.
"For decades, HIV-positive prisoners in Alabama have served longer and harsher sentences solely due to their HIV status; they have been denied the opportunity to improve themselves; they have been locked down and away from everyone else in the prison for 23 or 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; and they have been denied basic human rights. These policies cannot be justified by public health or corrections concerns," said Olivia Turner, Executive Director of the ACLU of Alabama. "It is high time that these prisons within prisons run by the Department of Corrections come to an end. Commissioner Allen should be applauded for beginning this process."
The ACLU and local and national advocates for people with HIV have challenged prison segregation policies for HIV-positive inmates since 1987 in two trials, two trips to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court, and in a public education campaign. That campaign culminated in 2003 in a major report by the Alabama Governor's HIV Commission for Children, Youth and Adults, finding that "the evidence is overwhelming that the exclusion of prisoners from educational, vocational, rehabilitative or community-based corrections programs, simply on the basis of HIV status, has no public health or correctional justification."
Although the ADOC has agreed to integrate HIV-positive inmates into several necessary programs, it continues to deny them access to work release services. The ACLU plans to meet with Commissioner Allen next week to urge an end to this and other discriminatory policies.
"There is not a single reason for the state to continue to bar prisoners with HIV from work release programs," said Christine Sun, a staff attorney with the ACLU's HIV Project. "Everyone benefits when former prisoners are able to find employment and become productive members of society. In light of the ADOC's willingness to make so many other changes, we are hopeful that the commissioner will hear us out on this issue at our upcoming meeting."
The ACLU's September 28 letter to Commissioner Allen is available online at:
Commissioner Allen's response to the ACLU is available online at: