South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) inmates who test positive for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) will no longer be housed separately from the rest of the state’s prisoners, state corrections officials announced July 10.
The new policy is one of the key features of an overhaul of how state health services are provided to prison inmates. According to the SCDC, an exact date of integration has not been set.
“Since October, 1998, inmates who test positive for the HIV virus at incarceration into the Department of Corrections have been separated from the general population and housed in dedicated facilities known as Therapeutic Communities,” said a statement released by the department July 10. “SCDC currently houses a total of 366 inmates, 351 men and 15 women, infected with the HIV virus at two different institutions in Columbia.”
The decision comes months after U.S. District Court Judge Myron H. Thompson ruled, in a December order in a lawsuit challenging the policy, that the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) must stop keeping it’s HIV infected prisoners locked away from the general population.
“It is evident that, while the ADOC’s categorical segregation policy has been an unnecessary tool for preventing the transmission of HIV, it has been an effective one for humiliating and isolating prisoners living with the disease,” said Thompson, in his decision on the case.
“Because HIV is also more common among minorities and the poor, the stigma attached to HIV deeply implicates race and class prejudice, as well as homophobia.”
South Carolina currently operates 26 different facilities for approximately 22,000 prisoners that all must get HIV tests upon entering the system.
Labeling the facilities where infected inmates are kept secluded as “HIV ghettos,” the American Civil Liberties Union praised the changes announced and the end to discrimination against HIV-positive prisoners in South Carolina.
“Today, we wholeheartedly celebrate South Carolina's decision to end HIV segregation,” the ACLU said in a statement.
“This HIV segregation policy has long subjected all South Carolina prisoners to far harsher and more degrading conditions, with far fewer opportunities for rehabilitation, than their HIV-negative peers – and in many cases it has resulted in people with HIV serving longer time in prison solely because of their HIV status,” the civil liberties advocate said.
“HIV segregation in prison came into being during the earliest days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, when panic, fear and confusion were at their height,” said Margaret Winter, head of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, from her blog on the organization’s website.
Winter said that the decision by the SCDC will “dramatically affect the lives of all HIV-positive prisoners in the State's custody, now and in the future.”
“What's more, it will have a powerful affirmative effect on the community as a whole, by breaking down deeply-rooted HIV prejudice, which – just like prejudices based on race and sexual orientation – has for too long needlessly divided us,” she said.
Along with the end of inmate segregation based on HIV test results, there are also plans for a more centralized health facility at the Broad River Correctional Institution located in the state’s capital of Columbia.
The revamping of the health services also calls for all medical records, such as dental reports, to become electronic in form.
South Carolina is the latest state to abandon prison segregation by HIV status. Mississippi scuttled a similar policy in 2010. Alabama is not yet in compliance with the order by the federal judge to house prisoners regardless of HIV status.
Thompson ruled that the policy violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The practice was once the norm in 46 states.
Federal prisoners are not segregated according to HIV status.