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News & Notes

September 1999

BP's Bethea Honored | HIV-Positive Prisoners Forced To Wear Stun Belts
"Silence = $" | "Living Well With HIV" On WOR Radio
Gay Boy Scouts

BP'S Bethea Honored

Stacie Bethea, Body Positive's Coordinator of Education and Outreach, has been named as the recipient of this year's Manny Maldonado Award.

The honor is given by Exponents Arrive, a program that offers intensive, in-depth training in HIV/AIDS, to its graduates who have excelled in the areas of education, outreach, and advocacy. The award, which was presented in a ceremony on July 22, is named for the founder and former Executive Director of Musica Against AIDS. Musica seeks to empower and educate individuals through the arts and music, and provides education, support, and case management to HIV-positive individuals in Brooklyn.

HIV-Positive Prisoners Forced to Wear Stun Belts

Amid national debate over the excessive use of force in United States law enforcement, Amnesty International released a report in June documenting an increasing use of high-tech brutality in this country's criminal justice system. The report includes recent allegations of torture and ill treatment with electro-shock weapons in local jails and in state and federal prison facilities. Among its disturbing revelations is reported evidence of the use of stun belts on HIV-positive prisoners and prisoners diagnosed with AIDS in the Old Parish Prison in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The stun belt -- one of a growing array of electro-shock weapons used by police and prison agencies across the U.S. -- is reportedly being used on inmates from the segregated HIV/AIDS unit of the Old Parish Prison (OPP-D-1) during transport to and from medical facilities. The only other prisoners required to wear the stun belt are high-security prisoners. HIV-positive inmates, however, must wear the stun belt regardless of their security classifications, a practice that the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission calls "both perilous and discriminatory." The IGLHRC points out that pretrial, medium-, and minimum-security prisoners are effectively being forced to wear the stun belts solely because of their HIV-positive status. The belt consequently acts as a visible status marker that encroaches upon HIV-positive inmates' right to confidentiality and singles them out for further discrimination or abuse.

Health experts have indicated that there is medical evidence suggesting that electro-shock devices may produce harmful or even fatal effects, particularly in the case of persons suffering from heart disease. The stun belt is known to cause immediate muscle immobilization, excruciating pain, and loss of control of bodily functions. Stun belts have allegedly been activated on at least two occasions against OPP-D-1 prisoners, including against one individual held in a hospital holding cell. In addition, inmates who are HIV-positive are reportedly required to sign a waiver consenting to be fitted with a stun belt or risk being denied transportation to the Clinic at Charity Hospital to receive life-sustaining treatment. According to the IGLHRC, "This coercive double bind subjects HIV-positive prisoners to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment: It not only puts the lives of already vulnerable inmates in greater jeopardy, but punitively undermines their right to access to care and treatment. It is therefore evident that the arbitrary use of stun belts on prisoners with HIV/AIDS constitutes a form of torture under internationally recognized standards."

IGLHRC and Amnesty International have issued a call for letters to Sheriff Charles Foti of the New Orleans Parish Prison System expressing deep concern over the use of stun belts on OPP-D-1 prisoners and asking for an immediate halt to this practice as a first step toward eliminating the use of stun belts from New Orleans Prison Parish overall. In a statement issued by the IGLHRC, the two organizations state:

  • "The United Nations' Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment defines torture as 'any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person ... by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.' The fact that torture is accomplished by sophisticated technological means renders the suffering no less harmful, and its commission no less reprehensible.
  • "The International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights, developed in a consultation by UNAIDS and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, call on all States 'to review and reform correctional systems in order to ensure that they are not misused in the context of HIV/AIDS and that they are consistent with international human rights obligations.' Guideline #4, in particular, calls on prison authorities to: 'Ensure that HIV-positive prisoners have access to care and treatment' [and] 'Ensure confidentiality of information regarding a prisoner's HIV status.'
  • "As a form of corporal punishment inflicted on a prisoner who physically transgresses an invisible line, the stun belts contravene the United Nations' Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (U.N. Doc. A/CONF/611, annex 1, E.S.C. res. 663C, 24 U.N. ESCOR Supp. No. 1 at 11), particularly paragraph 31, which stipulates that 'Corporal punishment, punishment by placing in a dark cell, and all cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments shall be completely prohibited as punishments for disciplinary offenses.'
  • "More particularly relevant to the way in which the belts are used to single out and stigmatize HIV-Positive prisoners are the following provisions of the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, [G.A. res. 45/111, annex, 45 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49A) at 200, U.N. Doc A/45/49 (1990)]. 1. All prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings. 2. There shall be no discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."

Letters protesting the use of stun belts may be sent to Sheriff Charles C. Foti, New Orleans Parish Prison System, 2800 Gravier Street, New Orleans, LA 70119.

"Silence = $"

For years, the pharmaceutical industry has said that high drug prices were required to support its research and development efforts. On July 20, AIDS Action released a report, "Silence = $," that exposes rising marketing and advertising budgets as the cause of high AIDS drug prices, not research and development costs.

AIDS Action's analysis of the fifteen largest pharmaceutical companies' annual reports found marketing, advertising, and administrative spending three times more than R&D spending. Direct consumer advertising specifically is increasing at a rate three times more than R&D spending.

AIDS Action's report also shows the focus on advertising is occurring as the pharmaceutical industry enjoys unmatched profits, overshadowing all other industries in three leading profit indicators. Even worse, taxpayers are footing the bill for programs and tax credits that pay for R&D as well as the drugs themselves and then get hit with prescription bills that are among the highest n the world. AIDS drugs cost individuals as much as $15,000 per year, about the cost of a GM Saturn.

"Imagine if General Motors could get the American taxpayer to heavily subsidize its research and development, fund government programs that purchase half of its cars, and then get many of those same taxpayers to buy a new car each and every year. Good work if you can get it, right? Well, the American pharmaceutical industry's got it," says AIDS Action Executive Director David Zingale.

AIDS Action's plan urges the pharmaceutical industry to lower prices voluntarily, limit the growth of its marketing budgets to the levels of R&D spending growth, and allow for the development of generic versions of AIDS drugs in the developing world. AIDS Action also urged the U.S. government to allow for the re-importation of AIDS drugs.

The full text of "Silence = $" and the statement by Zingale are available on-line at

"Living Well With HIV" on WOR Radio

In June the National AIDS Treatment Advocacy Project launched a weekly radio show, "Living Well with HIV," hosted by its Executive Director Jules Levin.

The show, which airs Sunday nights from 11:00 p.m. until midnight on WOR radio 710, features a different topic each week, and detailed discussions on aspects of HIV/AIDS treatment by a variety of experts.

People who are out of range of the 710 AM frequency can catch the live broadcast globally on the web using Microsoft Windows Media Player or Real Player. NATAP can be reached at 580 Broadway, Suite 403, New York, NY 10012; (212) 219-0106; (888) 26-NATAP;

Gay Boy Scouts

On August 4, in a long-awaited ruling, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the Boy Scouts of America's ban on homosexuals is illegal under that state's antidiscrimination law.

Two leaders of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays -- both parents of former scouts -- released statements praising the decision.

"I am hopeful that the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision encourages the Boy Scouts of America to halt its discriminatory policies nationwide and to welcome all of our children and family members into its ranks," said Melina Waldo, PFLAG's New Jersey's based Regional Director for New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. "As a parent of a gay son who was a Scout, I applaud this ruling by my state's highest court. I look forward to the day that the Scouts put aside a policy that is detrimental to all youth and society as a whole."

PFLAG National Executive Director Kristen Kingdom said, "This is a victory for fairness. We laud the efforts of Eagle Scout James Dale and his courage to stand tall for those values he learned in Scouting -- honesty, courtesy, and fairness. The Boy Scouts of America says it prides itself on teaching youth the value of honesty, but what happens when a teen identifies himself as gay? He opens himself up to discrimination because he is honest about his sexual orientation. PFLAG calls on the Boy Scouts to take today's message of inclusion to heart and to welcome our children and loved ones for who they are."

PFLAG, which filed an amicus brief in the New Jersey case, has a written public policy urging the Boy Scouts to change its stance. It encourages its members in more than 425 chapters to withhold contributions to the Boy Scouts until the organization changes its policy.

Back to the September 1999 Issue of Body Positive Magazine.

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This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.