CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union's says the Division of Corrections isn't protecting the privacy of inmates' medical information, and it's suing to demand better training of correctional officers.
The lawsuit alleges that a guard at the Beckley Correctional Center told other officers and inmates that one prisoner had HIV. The inmate, identified only as John Doe in the Kanawha County Circuit Court lawsuit, was then harassed by the officers and other inmates.
The man has been incarcerated since 1999 and tested positive in 2009 while at the Beckley prison's substance abuse treatment center.
ACLU lawyer Sarah Rogers tells the Charleston Gazette (http://bit.ly/121FQrs) that the state lacks effective policies to ensure that inmates' medical information is kept private.
"There's a long history of discrimination," she said. "From what we've seen, there are not effective policies to make sure that employees at different facilities know the laws and what the responsibilities are to protect privacy."
But Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein says all employees are adequately trained in confidentiality issues during a 40-hour orientation that covers "critical policy directives."
"We have a policy that deals with confidentiality of information and release of information," he said, "and employees when they review the policy also sign a form acknowledging they've read and understand it."
The lawsuit says the female guard took John Doe to a medical appointment in Charleston in August 2011 and that she insisted on being in the examining room despite the inmate's protests. The lawsuit says he was waiting to be transferred to a work release center and contends that he wasn't a flight risk and didn't need to be accompanied.
The lawsuit notes that he was not handcuffed during the drive and rode in the front seat.
It says the officer pledged to keep the medical information private but did not, instead telling other guards to be careful around him.
"Mr. Doe had managed to keep his diagnoses confidential until that point and had never had conflict with other inmates in the past," the complaint says. Since then, the inmate has been moved to three facilities, and each time, staff and inmates already knew he was HIV-positive.