( – promoted by mooncat)
Until the fall of 2007, HIV-positive inmates in Alabama's prisons were subject to a bizarre system that some described as “medical apartheid.”
After Alabama ACLU attorney's began looking into the situation, writing letters, and interviewing inmates, the situation got better. However, Alabama is sitll the only state in the nation that bars HIV-positive inmates from work release programs.
Why? Does that Alabama prison system know something that the other 49 states don't? It seems that this just a continuation of the ignorance and prejudice that affects so much of our state government
Whether you're talking about HIV-positive inmates, state tax policy, environmental regulation, rights of gay and lesbian parents, school funding, or curriculum choices, you can almost always count on Alabama's legislature and executive branches to make the worst possible decisions.
But in decreeing that HIV-positive inmates ineligible for work release, the state isn't just affecting those particular individuals – it imposes a societal cost, hurts their families, and makes them more likely to end up back in prison after release.
''I think we're dealing with a long custom here in Alabama. There's fear here,'' said Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU's National Prison Project. ''Certainly we have no reason to think anything the commissioner is doing is based on malice — far from it — but there needs to be a rational look at the facts.''
This is a case where doing the right thing is also the least expensive long-term option.
Until the Alabama chapter of the ACLU intervened, Inmates weren't allowed contact with other inmates, couldn't use the main exercise yards, had less time for family visitation, and were even barred from attending Christmas and holiday programs presented by church and community groups.
The family visitation restrictions were the most cruel – particularly for women inmates whose children would often travel for hours to visit and be granted only 10 minutes – if they got to see their mothers at all.
It was as if the prisons viewed HIV-positive inmates as the equivalent of rabid dogs that had to be caged up. There was no legal or moral basis for the policies – just plain meanness at work.
Most restrictions were lifted, but the ban on work-release remains in effect.
The Montgomery Advertiser highlights the reasons inmates are selected for work release – and why some are barred in Alabama:
Tutwiler prison inmate Kathryn Canty has all the qualities of a prime work release candidate: a good behavior record, less than three years left to serve and an accounting degree along with several vocational certificates.
But she also has HIV, and inmate advocates say Alabama is the only state with a prison system that bars those with HIV from participating in work release.
According to Alabama officials, it's a medical and safety issue. From the New York Times:
Alabama Corrections Department officials said HIV-infected inmates are barred because of a 2004 settlement under which the prison system agreed to watch such prisoners take their AIDS pills and make sure they are eating properly, too.
Such close monitoring — prompted by a lawsuit over poor health care for those with the AIDS virus — would be impossible on the outside, according to the department.
Also, Ruth Naglich, the department's associate commissioner of health services, said allowing inmates with HIV to work on the outside could expose them to illnesses and spread the AIDS virus.
''I think we have to ensure that healthy, responsible inmates are those participating and not those who are going to exhibit risky behaviors such as intravenous drug use or promiscuous sexual behavior if they're allowed to go into the community,'' she said.
Well now, correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't work release inmates considered the most responsible, trustworthy ones? Isn't that one way you become eligible for work release? Is Ms. Naglich suggesting that NON HIV-positive work release inmates regularly engage in drug use and promiscuous sexual behavior when they're “allowed to go into the community?”
It sounds as though she's asserting that HIV inmates are by their very nature more likely to do such things. Which really feeds into the perspective that the people who have HIV somehow “deserved” it because they weren't careful or responsible.
Undoubtedly, some people were NOT careful or responsible, but that doesn't mean we continue to punish them for a medical condition. Nobody advocates not treating smokers for lung cancer or denying emergency care to bicyclists without helmets.
As a fairly ethical person (usually), I'm upset at these people being singled out and discriminated against.
As a taxpayer, I'm also concerned about the long-term economic effect of the policy. Work-release programs help inmates return to a place in the community where they have ties, job skills, and a reason to stay out of trouble.
Other benefits, according the Somerset County New Jersey's Sheriff's office include:
- Permits inmates the opportunity to develop or strengthen good work habits and skills.
- Affords inmates opportunities to continue or strengthen constructive ties with family, friends, and the community.
- Permits disbursements to be made from inmate earnings to help defray the cost of incarceration, support dependents, reduce debts, and pay court fines.
- Enables inmates to accumulate savings to help meet financial needs or burdens after release from confinement.
- Provides inmates the opportunity to meet family needs.
- Provides inmates the opportunity to earn work credits, which will reduce the time to be served on the inmate's sentence.
That's a big draw for those who are looking to get a head start while still locked up, said Kenneth Henderson, who is about halfway through a two-year sentence at Limestone for a parole violation.
“(Work release) would benefit everybody in life,” he said.
“I feel like it will stop the repeaters from making simple mistakes. Sometimes you can't help yourself when you don't have no friends, no family. You don't have a plan,” Henderson said. “But with work release you can build your money up. Now you can say 'I got myself a job, I can work, I can get myself somewhere to stay.' “
I just can't believe that Alabama's HIV-positive inmates are inherently more dangerous than those in other states.
Alabama Corrections Commissioner, Richard Allen, has said that the situation is “under review,” and dismissed it as a problem “involving a vew small number of inmates.” Well, it's a big problem to those inmates!
It hurts inmates and their families, it can damage the communities where they return after prison, and it costs taxpayers extra money.
What's to review, Mr. Allen? Just fix it!