HIV Prisoners and the Scarlet Letter

HIV-positive prisoners in two southern states, Alabama and South Carolina, face daily stigma and harassment because of their status. According to an April joint report by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, titled “Sentenced to Stigma,” inmates in HIV units are forced to wear armbands or other indicators of their status. They are also denied equal participation in prison jobs and programs that might facilitate their re-entry back into their communities. Additionally, they must even worship separately from other prisoners. The other 48 states have abandoned this practice, first popular in many correctional facilities nationwide when AIDS first burst on the scene in the 1980s. As the last holdouts, Alabama and South Carolina maintain a stance suggestive of the scarlet letter worn by the heroine of Hawthorne’s novel of that name.

Corrections officials in both Alabama and South Carolina claim that segregation is needed to provide medical care and to prevent HIV transmission. But as “Sentenced to Stigma” notes, there are other ways to meet these goals. It points out, for example, that the Federal Bureau of Prisons provides medical care for HIV prisoners without resorting to segregation. In addition, the World Health Organization and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care agree that there is no medical basis for the separation, nor for limiting access to jobs, education or vocational programs available to others. Similarly, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that no medical basis exists for precluding persons with HIV from kitchen and food service employment in prisons.

The report also underscores the mental suffering that results when other prisoners send news to their home communities of the HIV status of fellow prisoners–news that can spread in a destructive manner. The result can be tormenting for family members unaware of their loved ones’ heath situation or their severe restrictions. This past March, Mississippi abandoned the segregation policy it too had followed. Now it is time for Alabama and South Carolina to follow suit and abandon theirs.

George Anderson, S.J.



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Pearce Shea
7 years 11 months ago
As someone who occasionally goes on prison visits I can say that while the "segregation" suffered by prisoners with AIDs/HIV is of course, very sad, occasionally heartbreaking, and often angering, I'm not sure if the other non-segregated states have it right. We on the social justice side of things frequently bemoan how the criminal justice system can often encourage recidivism; it seems hardly fair to throw the risk of HIV/AIDS into the mix as well.
chloe smith
7 years 11 months ago
HIV is not something people can nor should go through alone. People are the key to win this fight. So I would like to invite you to join my friends' cycle Pozspaces,com Once you complete your profile you can view thusands of profiles, read tons of blogs everyday. Also you can chat, creat blog, join the discuss,etc. Please follow the fllowing link to join my friends cycle
chloe smith
7 years 11 months ago
You do not have to feel lonely and scarey. There are more than 500,000 poz people who can really understand and support you at They would be your best friends. If you are lucky, you may find your own one to hold and be held.
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 11 months ago
The most base of human behavior, abuse and violence is allowed to thrive, unchecked, in the prisons of the United States.  These are the people society throws away.  Garbage.  Those with HIV are just on one lower tier in this hell.
If Prison reform is ever to be meaningful, our whole culture would need an attitude adjustment.  Instead of calling them prisons perhaps we could rename them to Houses of Rehabilitation and Love.
If we were truly a Christian nation, people would be lining up to serve these wounded and broken men and women.


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