By Julie Bolcer
Originally published on Advocate.com March 19 2010 8:25 AM ET
The Mississippi Department of Corrections has agreed to stop segregating prisoners with HIV, ending a practice that ostracized inmates and prevented them from accessing resources available to other prisoners.
According to a joint news release from the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, which advocated for the change, corrections commissioner Christopher Epps made the decision. The move leaves Alabama and South Carolina as the only states that continue to segregate prisoners with HIV, a practice more common during the early days of the HIV epidemic.
“Public and correctional health experts agree that there is no medical basis for segregating HIV-positive prisoners within correctional facilities or for limiting access to jobs, vocational training and educational programs available to others,” said the news release, which came out Wednesday. “Since 1987, however, MDOC has performed mandatory HIV tests on all prisoners entering the state prison system, and has permanently housed all male prisoners who test positive in a segregated unit at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, the state’s highest security prison. As a result, prisoners with HIV have been faced with unjustified isolation, exclusion and marginalization, and low-custody prisoners have been forced unnecessarily to serve their sentences in more violent, more expensive prisons.”
The change means that HIV-positive prisoners now can participate in training programs and jobs like kitchen work, and avoid public disclosure of HIV status that results from being housed in a separate unit. A desegregation policy will be phased in for prisoners currently in the separate HIV unit, and new prisoners will be incorporated into the general population immediately.
A forthcoming report from the ACLU and Human Rights Watch will analyze the impact of segregation policies in prisons in Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina.