The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the State of Alabama in 2011 over segregating HIV+ inmates in Alabama prisons and keeping them from participating in various rehabilitation and retraining programs. The class action lawsuit went to court on Monday.
"The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) automatically excludes all prisoners with HIV from a host of rehabilitative and vocational programs that ADOC offers to all prisoners that don't have HIV - including trade schools, work release jobs, residential drug-treatment programs for prisoners struggling with substance abuse, and programs for prisoners suffering from serious mental illness. Prisoners with HIV are even barred from the faith-based dormitory and the dormitory for seniors," the ACLU said.
South Carolina is the only other state in the country that maintains a similar segregation policy, which the ACLU maintains is discriminatory and unconstitutional. The ACLU says it plans to argue that Alabama's practices violate the Americans with Disabilities Act during the trial.
Alabama maintains that the HIV+ prisoners may pose a health threat to others and that there is no proof that there would be no significant risk of HIV being transferred to other prisoners if the at-risk population was integrated with the general population. After a prior lawsuit in the 1990s, an appeals court upheld the policy segregating the inmates.
Director of the ACLU National Prison Project Margaret Winter told HuffPost that "while many states instituted segregation policies when HIV and AIDS first emerged, medical evidence on how the disease is spread has made separating inmates an ineffective and unnecessary step.
According to an ADOC spokesperson, approximately 270 out of the 26,400 prisoners in the state correctional system have tested positive for HIV. Two of the 29 prisons in the state have dormitories housing only HIV+ prisoners. A state policy mandates that in all ADOC facilities, HIV+ inmates must wear a white armband on their arm to designate their medical status.