Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Elton's Stand Against Unethical Treatment of HIV Positive Prisoners

For the Elton John AIDS Foundation and The American Civil Liberties Union, July 2013 will be remembered as a milestone in our quest for the compassionate and ethical treatment of prisoners living with HIV/AIDS.

The South Carolina Department of Corrections finally announced that it would end its policy
of segregating HIV-positive prisoners, becoming the last state in the country to abolish this discriminatory practice.

Segregation of HIV- positive prisoners has taken many forms and resulted in numerous harmful and unethical consequences over the years. In some cases, prisoners have been forced to involuntarily disclose their health status or wear armbands and other clothing  to publicly symbolize their and the HIV status, singling them out  for mistreatment by fellow inmates, guards and visitors.

Segregation has also restricted options for housing. For instance, in South Carolina, some HIV-positive prisoners with short jail sentences were housed in a maximum- security prison for death row inmates instead of a more appropriate minimum- security facility. Moreover, segregating HIV-positive prisoners has limited or even eliminated their options for seating in dining halls, opportunities to attend religious services, access to medical treatment, rehabilitative services, work release, and educational, trade skills and vocational programs.

The segregation of HIV-positive prisoners has long been shown to be both ineffective and unnecessary. And yet it remained a policy of prisons in the Deep South for decades. Mississippi only abolished its prison segregation policies in March of 2010, and Alabama followed suit in December of 2012.

Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project and a leading voice on this issue, aptly describes these segregation policies as creating “HIV ghettos,” which often
resulted in devastating consequences—longer prison time due to lack of access to the programs that could mitigate sentences, poorer health conditions, elevated HIV transmission rates because of insufficient medical care and services to manage the disease and keep it from spreading, and the promotion of fear, prejudice and violence against prisoners living with HIV/AIDS.

The ACLU has been working tirelessly for over two decades to end the segregation of prisoners
with HIV and improve living conditions and access to medical care and other services for prisoners with HIV across the country through litigation, advocacy and public education. Our dedication to this work is based not only on our desire to provide fair and equal treatment for all inmates in the U.S. prison system, but also because ending these policies has a powerful, positive impact on the community as a whole by breaking down deeply rooted HIV prejudice, which—just like any other prejudice— has needlessly divided us for too long.

Since 2007, through my foundation, I have joined in this effort by investing more than $1.5 million in programs run by the ACLU, as well as partner organizations like Bailey House, The Center for HIV Law and Policy, Human Rights Watch, the National AIDS Fund (now AIDS United), Prisoners HIV/AIDS Support Action Network, Project Unshackle and the Rikers Island Project. We
are thrilled that these efforts have at long last succeeded in ending a draconian policy based on medical theories that were debunked decades ago.

But our job is far from over. HIV-positive prisoners still face appalling conditions
in many U.S. correctional facilities. And when these individuals re-enter society, very few are connected with a complete set of services to allow them some stability and support while they figure out their health and new lives.

Repairing the lives of the nearly 200,000 HIV-positive people who pass through
the criminal justice system every year and helping them become healthy, self-sufficient and productive members of society is a vital part of our ongoing efforts to achieve
an AIDS-free generation and ultimately a world without AIDS.

- Sir Elton John for Stand Magazine (American Civil Liberties Union)

1 comment:

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