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Take It From #49, Alabama: It's Time to End HIV-Positive Prison Segregation

Posted by Ryan Morgan on July 18, 2013 at 12:51 PM
As you may have heard in the news last week, South Carolina barely won the coveted position of the 49th state to end the antiquated, medically unnecessary, and discriminatory practice of segregating HIV-positive prison inmates. That leaves Alabama. Seeing how we’re light years ahead of Alabama in terms of…well, everything, here are a few nuggets of wisdom we’d like to pass on, from #49 to #50. [caption id="attachment_4928" align="aligncenter" width="250"]All right, you’ve got us on this one, Alabama.  You DO have the Boll Weevil Monument, the world’s only monument dedicated to an insect pest. Alright, you’ve got us on this one, Alabama. You DO have the Boll Weevil Monument, the world’s only monument dedicated to an insect pest.[/caption]
  1. 1.    It ain't 1985. We know how HIV transmission works now.  Listen, I get it.  In 1985 virtually all the state and federal prison systems were segregating HIV-positive inmates.  We were all scared, ignorant and making policies based on the best research at the time.  But, you know, we’ve learned stuff.  And it’s ok to change your policy when you have better information.  
[caption id="attachment_4929" align="aligncenter" width="253"]Ok, I’ll give you this one too, Alabama—Rosa Parks, Montgomery Bus Boycott…that’s good, civil rights, changing-the-US-for-the-better stuff. Ok, I’ll give you this one too, Alabama—Rosa Parks, Montgomery Bus Boycott…that’s good, civil rights, changing-the-US-for-the-better stuff.[/caption]
  1. 2.    When you do stuff you say is based on science and it’s NOT based on science, you kind of look like a jerk.  I’m not saying South Carolina didn’t make the same justifications for HIV-positive segregation in the not-so-distant past, but when you insist that you HAVE to separate inmates because of medical care and to prevent HIV transmission and then research shows you otherwise…and other states show how you can meet these worthy goals without segregation… but then you segregate anyway…yeah, that just makes you look like a jerk.
[caption id="attachment_4930" align="aligncenter" width="250"]Alright, alright, Alabama.  You also gave us Hank Williams and we appreciate that. Alright, alright, Alabama. You also gave us Hank Williams and we appreciate that.[/caption]
  1. 3.    Remember what we learned in Brown v. Board of Education? Separate in inherently unequal.  So here’s what happens: upon entering the state prison system, all prisoners must take an HIV test.  The results of this test—more than the severity of the crime, the length of the inmate's sentence—determines where the inmate will be housed, if the inmate will have access to in-prison jobs, if the inmate will have an opportunity to earn wages, and if the inmate will have a chance to partake in supervised work in the community—obviously an important part of successful transition after inmate release.
And according to a 2010 study by Human Rights Watch,
Because the HIV units are located in high security prisons, low-custody prisoners must serve their sentences in far harsher, more restrictive, and more violent prisons, and at far greater cost to taxpayers.  Otherwise eligible prisoners miss out on opportunities for jobs, training programs and other services designed to prepare prisoners for a productive return to society.  Though work release has been shown to reduce recidivism, prisoners with HIV have limited or no access to these valuable programs.
So come on Alabama.  From #49 to #50, you know it’s time to end the segregation of HIV-positive prison inmates.  

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