A suit brought by HIV-positive inmates and the American Civil Liberties Union against Alabama over alleged segregation practices in the state’s jails headed to trial Sept. 17.

The ACLU brought a federal class-action suit last year against Alabama on behalf of 250 HIV-positive inmates whose rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act are allegedly being violated.

According to the suit, the Alabama Department of Corrections isolates HIV-positive men in quarantined housing units behind barbed-wire fences, forcing them to wear white arm bands, and prevents them from participating in prison jobs, rehabilitative programs, and recreational and vocational opportunities available to men who don’t have HIV.

The lawsuit claims that many states adopted similar policies in the 1980s at the height of the “public fear over the HIV/AIDS epidemic.” But by 1994, only six states maintained separate populations, and by 2003, only three states continued to keep HIV-positive inmates apart from the general population, according to the Associated Press.

Today, Alabama and South Carolina are the only two remaining states that segregate HIV positive inmates from general population.

The Americans with Disabilities Act gives federal civil rights protection to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to others on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, State and local government services, and telecommunications.

Under the act, persons with HIV, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic, have physical impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities and thus fall under federal protection. Persons who are discriminated against because they are regarded as being HIV-positive are also protected.


Brittany Buchanan

Special to the AFRO