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National News
California Suit Calls Prison Haircutting Unsanitary

March 13, 2002

AIDS activists supported by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) announced Monday the filing of a class-action lawsuit asking that federal courts prohibit California prisons from cutting inmates' hair with unsterilized clippers. At a news conference, a dozen representatives of various organizations said they believe thousands of prisoners have been exposed to HIV or hepatitis from unsanitary haircutting practices.

A former inmate who is an area minister, James Stern, said he had earlier filed a suit in the matter. Stern said that while serving time in a state facility in Delano for passing bad checks, he observed inmates with bleeding scalps after getting haircuts with unsterilized instruments. Stern said he was placed in solitary confinement for six months for refusing a haircut. He finally submitted to getting haircuts and said that while he did not contract either disease, he did come down with a skin condition.

A spokesperson for the California Corrections Department, Russ Heimerich, said the agency has adopted procedures that require barbers to sterilize implements between customers. "We don't believe that the risk of getting AIDS or hepatitis from a haircut in prison is any greater than anywhere else," Heimerich said.

Margaret Wilson, a lawyer representing those seeking the class-action injunction, said depositions would be taken to prove there is a danger. Rick Lopes, a spokesperson for the Barbering and Cosmetology bureau, said a state law exempts the prison system from bureau regulations requiring sterilized implements, but that prisons could choose to follow them. Waters said a coalition of AIDS organizations became aware of Stern's suit and decided to back it by filing the class action. HIV and hepatitis could be transmitted by blood on haircutting instruments, said Paul Simon, a physician with the LA County Department of Health Services. He said he had not heard of any such case in this country.

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Excerpted from:
Los Angeles Times
03.12.02; Kenneth Reich

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