HIV-Positive Prisoners in Alabama and South Carolina Face Discriminatory Practices
If you want to know what it was like to live with HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, state prisons in Alabama or South Carolina in 2012 offer some tragic examples.
In the ’80s, people infected with the AIDS virus faced horrendous, daily discrimination and injustice. Today, Alabama and South Carolina are blatantly and dangerously discriminating against HIV-positive prisoners. It’s a policy that simply makes no sense.
In Alabama, prisoners with HIV are made to wear a white armband to distinguish themselves from other inmates, a modern-day scarlet letter. In South Carolina, the 400 or so HIV-positive prisoners, even those convicted of minor offenses, are housed in maximum-security facilities alongside those on death row. Both states segregate HIV-positive prisoners from the rest of the prison population and arbitrarily exclude them from important opportunities to rehabilitate and re-enter society.
Of course, prisoners waive certain rights when they break the law. But HIV is no longer a death sentence; simply having the virus merits neither cruel and unusual punishment nor the denial of opportunities to earn one’s way back into society. When I established the Elton John AIDS Foundation 20 years ago, one objective was to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS. These policies are a reminder that our work is far from over.