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Limestone's HIV-positive inmates admitted to education, work


ATHENS, Ala. - More than 200 male inmates who are HIV-positive at Limestone Correctional Facility in Athens will have a chance to earn GEDs, take part in vocational programs and spend time outside their dorms, ending the state's practice of segregating them.

Last year, a commission appointed by ex-Gov. Don Siegelman recommended admitting the prisoners into education, treatment and work programs, prompting corrections officials to take another look at the issue.

The prisoners were allowed in the programs for the first time Monday.

The only state prison system other than Alabama to retain total HIV segregation into the 1990s was Mississippi. The American Civil Liberties Union, which monitors state prison systems, said Mississippi opened up its programs in 2001.

"Today male prisoners with HIV are closer to equality in Alabama than they have ever been before," said Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU's National Prison Project.

If the Department of Corrections allowed HIV-positive prisoners into community-based programs at the same rate as other prisoners, the state could save between $306,000 and $392,000 a year, an ACLU study found.

Conditions and medical care at Limestone prison, where all of Alabama's male HIV-positive inmates are housed, remain the focus of a 2002 class-action lawsuit.

The prison's medical staff says care has improved, but the lawsuit has not been settled. Attorneys suing the state praised Monday's change but said it was long overdue and more improvements are needed.

DOC moved HIV-positive prisoners into better housing. The men live in modular buildings with two-man cells, as opposed to the open warehouse where they used to live, said prisons spokesman Brian Corbett.

"They want to appear they've put their best foot forward before they're in front of a federal judge," said Gretchen Rohr, an Atlanta attorney with Holland and Knight, who is working with the Southern Center for Human Rights on the lawsuit.

The policy reversal does not include female inmates with HIV. They remain segregated and barred from classes at Tutwiler prison. Winters and representatives of AIDS Alabama have asked Prison Commissioner Donal Campbell to change Tutwiler's policies.

Information from: The Birmingham News


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Information in this article was accurate in January 20, 2004. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.