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Press Release

National Conference to Look at Plight of Prisoners With HIV

Lawyers, Activists, Clergy and Health Providers to Meet June 17 in Washington, D.C.

June 8, 2000

Six months after the United States Supreme Court let stand Alabama's segregation of prisoners with HIV, a broad coalition of health and civil rights experts and clergy is meeting to build a national strategy to defend the diminishing rights of this vulnerable population.

On June 17, a day-long conference entitled "No Lost Causes" will be held in Washington, D.C., bringing together advocates for prisoners as well as professionals in fields ranging from public health to pastoral care. Sponsored by the ACLU Prisoners' Rights Project, the event is organized by a committee of individuals from around the country, including representatives from the Southern Center for Human Rights, the California HIV in Prisons Project, and Lambda Legal.

"Never before has such a broad range of advocates, activists, lawyers and scholars joined to ensure that prisoners with HIV and Hepatitis C are receiving fair and equal treatment in the criminal justice system," said Jackie Walker, AIDS Information Coordinator of the ACLU Prison Project. "Courts increasingly have shown themselves unsympathetic to the mistreatment of HIV-positive prisoners. For many prisoners, jail is more than punishment, it is life threatening," she said.

In January 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Davis v. Hopper, which held that the segregation of prisoners with HIV from other inmates in housing, classrooms, workplaces and other programs did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. "When the High Court let stand Alabama's segregation policy, other states began denying services for inmates with HIV. Prisoners in Mississippi and elsewhere have died as a direct result of these policies," said Margaret Winter, the attorney for the prisoners in the Davis case. "This conference is a way to channel the growing sense of hopelessness and frustration into a positive course of action," said Winter.

Said Lambda's AIDS Project Director Catherine Hanssens, "Coming together in Washington is meant to build a national network of people trying to improve the quality of life for our nation's prisoners and even save lives. AIDS as well as Hepatitis C are the fastest growing epidemics among prisoners, and decent treatment and prevention education, not ignorant policies, are desperately needed."

The conference will highlight the often inadequate health care in jails as well as the justice system's common practice of viewing a criminal defendant's HIV status as evidence of wrongdoing or even as a weapon. Participants will look closely at the spread of Hepatitis C (HCV) as well as HIV.

WHAT: "No Lost Causes" Conference to Discuss the Concerns of Prisoners with HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C
WHO: Coalition of health care providers, AIDS service organizations, former prisoners, lawyers and others
WHERE: Washington, D.C., 1875 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.
WHEN: Saturday, June 17, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x230, 888-987-1984 (pager)
Jackie Walker, ACLU Prisoners' Rights Project 202-234-4830
Catherine Hanssens 212-809-8585 x215

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This article was provided by Lambda Legal. Visit Lambda Legal's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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