Miss. no longer segregating HIV+ prisoners

News Notes: Beyond the Carolinas

JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) has agreed to end the segregation of prisoners with HIV, a longstanding discriminatory policy that has prevented prisoners from accessing key resources that facilitate their successful transition back into the community.

The decision by Mississippi’s corrections commissioner Christopher Epps, leaves South Carolina and Alabama as the only states in the nation that segregate prisoners based on their HIV status. Epps made the decision ahead of a forthcoming report by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch analyzing the harmful impact segregation policies have had in the three states.

“Commissioner Epps deserves a tremendous amount of credit for making this courageous decision to replace a policy based on irrational HIV prejudice with a policy based on science, sound correctional practice and respect for human rights,” said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison Project.

She added, “The remaining segregation policies in South Carolina and Alabama are a remnant of the early days of the HIV epidemic and continue to stigmatize prisoners and inflict them and their families with a tremendous amount of needless suffering.”

- - - advertisement - - -

Public and correctional health experts agree that there is no medical basis for segregating HIV-positive prisoners within correctional facilities or for limiting access to jobs, vocational training and educational programs available to others. Since 1987, however, MDOC has performed mandatory HIV tests on all prisoners entering the state prison system and has permanently housed all male prisoners who test positive in a segregated unit at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, the state’s highest security prison.

As a result, prisoners with HIV have been faced with unjustified isolation, exclusion and marginalization, and low-custody prisoners have been forced unnecessarily to serve their sentences in more violent, more expensive prisons.

The change in policy will enable prisoners with HIV to participate in jobs, training programs and other services to which they were previously denied access and which are designed to prepare prisoners for a productive return to society. Prisoners with HIV will now be able to participate in kitchen work, for example. Many prisoners worked in kitchens, cafes or restaurants prior to their incarceration, and continued employment in that area can help them upon re-entry into the workforce.

Additionally, prisoners with HIV will no longer be assigned to a segregated HIV unit, which resulted in the public disclosure of their HIV status and left them at risk of being ostracized and subjected to hostility and violence at the hands of other prisoners. Epps said he will phase in the new desegregation policy gradually for prisoners currently housed in the HIV unit, and will form a committee to make individualized placement decisions for these prisoners.

“Prisoners with HIV were often forced to live in cruel, inhumane and degrading conditions, and we’re delighted that Mississippi has changed its policy,” said Megan McLemore, health researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Integrating prisoners with HIV is the norm across the United States and MDOC deserves significant credit for making this decision.”

- - - advertisement - - -

> Lambda Legal returned to the New Jersey Supreme Court on March 18, filing a motion seeking full marriage equality on behalf of the seven same-sex couples they represented in a 2006 lawsuit that led the state legislature enacting civil unions. “The New Jersey Supreme Court ordered equality for same-sex couples when it decided our marriage lawsuit in 2006, and the legislature has failed to meet that crystal-clear obligation,” said Hayley Gorenberg, Deputy Legal Director at Lambda Legal. “Civil unions are a failed legislative experiment in providing equality in New Jersey — marriage equality is the only solution. Because the legislature ignored the extensive research and unanimous conclusion of its own Civil Union Review Commission and the overwhelming evidence presented in hours of legislative testimony, we must go back to court.”

> William Mann, Greg Herren and J. M. Redmann are featured among the dozens of gay and lesbian authors who will be participating in the second annual Gay and Lesbian Literary Arts (GALLA) Festival, to be held April 9-11 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The festival will include workshops, seminars, panels, presentations and readings at the Stonewall Library & Archives and the adjacent ArtServe facilities. For tickets or more information, visit www.GALLAfestival.org or call Stonewall at 954-763-8565.

> In a 10-5 vote along party lines, the Texas State Board of Education moved to include increased favorable mentions of anti-gay, right-wing leaders Phyllis Schlafly (Heritage Foundation) and Jerry Falwell (Moral Majority) in the state’s history textbooks, which will also be used in school districts across the U.S. “It’s unimaginable that millions of kids across this nation may now be taught that people who espouse and promote religion-based bigotry are to be looked upon as favorable,” said Brent Childers, executive director of Faith In America. After a public comment period, the board will vote on final recommendations in May.

> LGBT soap fans were disappointed to learn that “One Life To Live” is dropping the storyline of gay characters Kyle and Fish. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation chided, “Last summer, ‘One Life to Live’ brought a ground-breaking relationship into the homes of millions with Kyle and Fish’s story, one that built acceptance and understanding of gay people. While we understand that the close of storylines is a frequent occurrence on daytime dramas, canceling this story just as it gains momentum is a step backward in ABC Daytime’s representation of the lives of gay Americans.

> Frank Musgisha, the spokesperson for Uganda’s leading LGBT rights organization, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), made three high-profile stops in the U.S. late last month to speak about the human rights crisis currently facing LGBT Ugandans, and the role conservative religious forces in America have played in that crisis. Musgisha appeared at public events in New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C. where he denounced the new anti-homosexuality bill currently under consideration in Uganda that could inflict penalties as severe as death for being gay or lesbian. Well-known U.S. evangelicals were recently proven to have been involved in promoting the legislation as well as similar initiatives in Kenya and Nigeria. : :

- - - advertisement - - -

Posted by David Stout

David Stout is the associate editor of QNotes. He can be reached at editor2@goqnotes.com.