MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union will be in court Monday to challenge Alabama's long standing policy of segregating HIV positive prisoners from the remainder of the prison population.
HIV positive inmates are currently segregated from others, mostly at Limestone Correctional Facility in north Alabama and at Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson will hear arguments in a trial at the federal courthouse in Montgomery on whether he should order Alabama prison officials to end the policy. The issue has been tried twice before with each trial ending with rulings against the inmates. The state has asked Thompson to throw the case out and rule that the issues have been covered in the previous trials. Thompson has said he would defer a ruling on that motion until after he has heard the testimony in this trial.
The lead attorney in the case for the ACLU, Margaret Winter, said HIV is now controlled by medicine and is no longer the death sentence it was once considered to be. She called continuing to isolate HIV inmates "absurd" and said Alabama and South Carolina are the only states that continue the practice.
She said the isolation makes it more difficult for the inmates to receive some types of training. She said while the inmates are eligible for work release, they are often not assigned to many jobs like food service positions. The inmates, she said, must wear armbands indicating they are assigned to the HIV positive dormitory.
The lawsuit says each inmate upon entering the prison system in tested for HIV.
"The HIV test will determine where the prisoner will be housed, eat, and recreate," the suit says.
Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett said prison officials would not comment before the start of the trial.
However in a motion seeking to dismiss the lawsuit, the department argued that "the long-standing policy of specialized housing units for special needs patients, like the HIV-positive population best serves the needs of the state."
The trial is expected to last about a month.