New York Times (10.26.03) - Monday, October 27, 2003
Attorneys for inmates with HIV/AIDS segregated at the
Limestone Correctional Facility in Alabama filed a federal
suit against prison officials and medical provider Naphcare in
Birmingham last November, contending that prisoners' living
conditions and medical care constituted cruel and unusual
punishment. Being admitted to Limestone with AIDS was akin to
a death sentence, said Dr. Stephen Tabet, the plaintiffs'
medical expert specializing in infectious diseases at the
University of Washington.
Tabet, who reviewed 38 medical files of dead HIV-positive
inmates at Limestone, noted the many instances of AIDS-related
pneumonia and wasting that he said should not have been fatal.
"Consistently patients died of preventable diseases," said
Tabet, who issued a report critical of Limestone's patient
Many patients did not get their medication or understand the
importance of taking it, Tabet said. Others told him that they
could not tolerate the medicines on an empty stomach at the 3
a.m. medicine calls. Prisoners too sleepy or sick to stand in
lines for up to 45 minutes missed out, the lawsuit maintains.
Alabama prisoners' AIDS-related death rate in 2000 was more
than twice the national prison average, according to the
Justice Department. Thirty-nine men with HIV have died at
Limestone since 1999. A recent state-sponsored audit called
the six AIDS deaths at Limestone in the first 10 months of
2002 a "remarkably high" number.
Alabama is one of 20 states that test all prisoners for HIV
but the only one to segregate HIV-positive inmates from other
prisoners in both its cells and prison programs. Courts have
endorsed segregation of HIV-positive prisoners, noting that
states that integrate their populations have many more new HIV
infections among prisoners.
Citing the pending suit, prison officials declined comment but
denied the prisoners' claims in legal papers. Naphcare, until
recently Limestone's medical contractor, defended its work and
disputes the state audit's conclusion, and is suing its
authors for libel.
"The standard of care is good," said Dr. Colette Simon,
previously with Naphcare and Limestone's sole doctor
responsible for 1,823 prisoners, including 237 with HIV. "All
they have to do is come when they are called," she said of the
prisoners. People too sick or weak to take their medicine are
"not in the dorm," Simon said. "They are in my infirmary."