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Justice Department Demands SC Prison System Ends Segregation Of HIV Inmates

The Justice Department is demanding that South Carolina end its policy of segragating HIV-positive inmates from the rest of the prison population. The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division makes several demands in a June 22nd letter to the South Carolina Department of Corrections. - End the blanket HIV segregation policy within 90 days. The Justice Department says HIV-positive inmates should only be separated from the general population if it's determined they are "engaging in conduct involving a significant risk of transmission of HIV to others." - Give HIV-positive inmates equal access to prison jobs and programs. The Justice Department says the segregation makes many HIV inmates ineligible for work release. That's because work release is not offered at the two locations that house HIV inmantes - Broad River Correctional Institution (men) and Camille Griffin Graham Correctional Institution (women). - Give HIV-positive inmates adequate time to eat because the virus "reduces the absorption of food and makes it more difficult to eat." According to the Associated Press, Prison Director Jon Ozmint criticized the letter and the Obama Administration on Tuesday in a meeting of the governor's cabinet. "They would rather our employees be put at risk, other inmates be put at risk and ultimately the public be put at risk," he said, according to the AP report. Ozmint said he expects a lawsuit. South Carolina started to house HIV-infected inmates in separate dormitories in 1998. Corrections spokesman Josh Gelinas says the move made it easier to treat these inmates and helped keep the virus from spreading. "Centralizing inmates with the disease created therapeutic communities, where it is easier for HIV specialists to efficiently and economically provide treatment and where physicians and caregivers can more readily teach inmates how to treat their illness and prevent its spread after they are released from prison," Gelinas wrote in an e-mail. All South Carolina inmates are tested for HIV when they enter the state prison system. In 2000, Gelinas says 582 inmates had HIV. As of January 1st, he says the number had dropped to 420. Gelinas says the department knows of only one case in which an inmate transmitted HIV to another inmate. He also states HIV inmates "are allowed to attend activities with other inmates, including work, school and faith-based programs." The Justice Department disagrees. In the letter, the department says drug treatment, work-release and pre-release programs are not offered at facilities where HIV inmates are placed. "As a result. . . many inmates with HIV serve longer sentences than other inmates with the same classification. Also, inmates with HIV who must complete a drug treatment program as a condition of their sentence or to meet parole requirements are no only unable to do so, but they are denied the benefit of such treatment programs on the basis of disability," the letter says. South Carolina and Alabama are the only states that segregate HIV inmates. The ACLU released a report on the issue in April. The report, "Sentenced to Stigma," says prisoners are forced to disclose their medical condition, which the group says is a violation medical privacy and international human rights law. It says most prisoners wear an armband that effectively identifies them as HIV positive. The group says that designation promotes discrimination against HIV-positive inmates.