August 13, 2009
Montgomery, AL -- After more than two decades of intense advocacy by the American Civil Liberties Union, Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) officials this week ended a longstanding ban of prisoners with HIV from participating in the state's work release program. The ACLU and other advocates have long argued that the ban was an arbitrary and discriminatory denial to participation in a program essential for aiding prisoners' successful reintegration into society.
"This is a day that is long overdue and we are thrilled that it has finally arrived," said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. "There simply has been no justifiable basis to deny participation in this program to a class of people simply because of their HIV status, and ADOC Commissioner Richard F. Allen deserves credit for taking a stand for justice and equality."
Eligible prisoners at the Limestone Correctional Facility in Harvest, Alabama and the Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Alabama, which house segregated units for prisoners with HIV, now await transfer to work release centers. According to ADOC officials, all eligible prisoners with HIV have been approved to participate in the work release program and will be transferred to work release facilities as beds become available.
"One of the prisoners told us that when she recently received notice that she had been approved for work release she wanted to weep," said Olivia Turner, Executive Director of the ACLU of Alabama. "There is no way to overstate the humiliation these prisoners have suffered for so long, from being ostracized, isolated and denied participation in a program that has been available to everyone else."
Work release programs, perhaps more than any other correctional program, increase the odds for successful re-entry into the community by allowing prisoners to hold paying jobs during the day, gain sorely needed job skills and experience, set aside savings for rent and child support, begin paying off court fees and even find permanent jobs.
The ACLU's efforts to gain access to work release for prisoners living with HIV dates back to 1987, when the ACLU filed a federal class-action lawsuit charging that banning prisoners with HIV from all prison programs, including work release, violated the Rehabilitation Act and the later-enacted Americans with Disabilities Act by arbitrarily excluding people with HIV for no other reason than their HIV status. The decision by ADOC officials to open the work release program to prisoners with HIV leaves South Carolina as the only remaining state in the nation that continues to ban prisoners with HIV from work release.
Other forms of discrimination against HIV-positive prisoners in Alabama continue to persist, however. Prisoners with HIV continue to be excluded from faith-based honor dorms, prison dining halls, residential substance abuse and re-entry programs and work crews. Prisoners with HIV are also given limited access to sports fields, recreational opportunities and most prison jobs.
"We're pleased that ADOC has agreed to end this illegal and unjust discrimination," said Rose Saxe, staff attorney with the ACLU AIDS Project. "But unfortunately there is still much more work to be done in Alabama and across the country."
Additional information about the ACLU's work to end discrimination of prisoners with HIV in Alabama is available online at: www.aclu.org/hiv/discrim/tutwilerprison.html.
Additional information about the ACLU of Alabama is available online at: www.aclualabama.org.