The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

April 1, 2011

DOC: ACLU claims 'misinformed'

By Kelly Kazek

— The commissioner of state prisons said he has not been served with the lawsuit ACLU lawyers said they filed Monday demanding equal treatment for HIV-positive inmates, but he said the claims are “by all accounts false and misinformed.”

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the class-action suit against the Alabama Department of Corrections over a policy to keep HIV-positive prisoners segregated from other prisoners, which, in effect, bars them from rehabilitation services. Among the plaintiffs are four inmates from Limestone Correctional Facility, which has more than 200 HIV-positive prisoners.

The suit names DOC Commissioner Kim Thomas, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and other DOC officials.

Thomas said in a statement released Thursday morning the allegations “regrettably ignore this department’s important obligations to provide health care, prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, and manage the prison population in such a way to ensure the safety of that population, departmental staff, and the public at large.”

According to the ACLU, prisoners with HIV in Alabama are excluded from residential pre-release units where prisoners near the end of their sentences learn to transition back into the community and from jobs that enable prisoners to gain marketable work skills and experience. It also stated that the inmates are not allowed access to the community corrections program, which affords qualified prisoners the opportunity to work in the community during the day.

The suit was filed on behalf of 10 plaintiffs. The four local prisoners are Louis Henderson, Darrell Robinson, Dwight Smith and Albert Knox. Two other prisoners are part of the Decatur work-release program and four female plaintiffs are housed at Tutwiler Prison for Women.

Allison Neal, legal director for the ACLU in Alabama, said the ACLU and DOC have been communicating on the issues since 2006 but have reached an impasse.

Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project, described Alabama’s prison segregation policy as “nothing more than a shameful remnant of an earlier era of ignorance and hysteria about HIV.”

The ACLU stated South Carolina is the only other state with similar prison policies.

Adam Smith contributed to this report