Associated Press (09.05.12)
A lawsuit challenging Alabama’s policy of segregating HIV-positive inmates will proceed to trial this month, thanks to an order issued Wednesday by a federal judge.
In rejecting the state prison system’s request that the suit be dismissed, US District Judge Myron Thompson cleared it for a non-jury trial set to start on Sept. 17 in Montgomery.
The judge wrote in his order that Alabama had been segregating HIV-positive prisoners since the 1980s, as many other states also were doing at the time. By 1994, however, only six states continued the practice, and now only Alabama and South Carolina do so. A total of 260 HIV-positive inmates are currently held at four Alabama correctional institutions.
Kim Thomas, the state’s prison commissioner, said Alabama won a similar case in 1999 and is prepared for trial on this one.
Thompson rejected the state’s claim that it is immune from suit and that inmates are not entitled to medical privacy. However, he did not rule on the question of whether the current suit is too much like one filed in 1997, which the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals decided in Alabama’s favor in 1999. Instead, he said he would determine at the end of the trial whether this case was too similar to the earlier one to proceed.
Attorneys for the eight inmates who filed the current suit maintain that conditions today are much different than when the earlier case was settled. They cited medical advances and changing attitudes about HIV, arguing that AIDS is no longer an “invariably fatal disease,” as the appeals court declared 13 years ago.