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Commentary & Opinion
Lack of Funding Contributing to "Egregious Treatment" of HIV-Positive Inmates in Alabama Prison, Editorial Says

September 4, 2003

It is "crystal clear" that a lack of proper funding, resulting in overcrowding and understaffing, is at the root of a federal class-action lawsuit over the "egregious treatment" of inmates in the HIV/AIDS ward of Alabama's Limestone Correctional Facility, a Birmingham News editorial says (Birmingham News, 9/1). The Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights last week released a report on the medical treatment and living conditions of the 300-person HIV unit of the prison, the only facility in the country that segregates HIV-positive inmates from other inmates. The 125-page report, written by Dr. Stephen Tabet, an infectious disease expert, gives a detailed case summary of the deaths of 38 HIV-positive inmates between 1999 and 2002, as well as Tabet's assessment of the medical care that the inmates received. Tabet concludes that in nearly all of the deaths investigated, "the death was preceded by a failure to provide proper medical care or treatment" and all of the deaths were caused by "preventable illnesses." In addition, Tabet said that the "overcrowded" side-by-side, head-to-toe bunk beds "placed these immune-compromised patients and the staff at an undue risk of acquiring contagious diseases" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/29). This situation is "repeated throughout the [Alabama] prison system," the editorial says, noting that in addition to the lawsuit over the care of HIV-positive inmates at Limestone, the state is a defendant in two other cases regarding inmate medical care. According to the News, Alabama ranks 50th in the nation for spending on prisons and inmate medical care. "Chronic underfunding, coupled with wrongheaded 'tough-on-crime' policies that packed prisons with nonviolent drug offenders, has come home to roost," the editorial says (Birmingham News, 9/1).

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