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Prison Ordered to Pay $27K Settlement for Segregating HIV-Positive Inmate

Prison Ordered to Pay $27K Settlement for Segregating HIV-Positive Inmate

The Justice Department just ruled that detainees cannot be segregated based only on their HIV status.

Recently a complaint was filed on behalf of a detainee who was isolated in a segregated area of prison for the space of six months — simply for being HIV-positive. Jail employees allegedly deliberately revealed the prisoner's HIV status to another detainee and posted his HIV status  on his cell door for all to see, putting the detainee at risk for violence from other inmates. According to a March 22 press release from the U.S. Department of Justice, a judge has reached a settlement involving Union Parish Detention Center (UPDC), a correctional facility located in Farmerville, Louisiana.

The judge ordered UPDC pay $27,500 in damages to the complainant for isolating the detainee for six months, based solely on his HIV status.

Per the agreement, UPDC will not segregate detainees moving forward on the basis of their HIV status. The agreement also requires the prison to adopt nondiscrimination policies, hire an ADA coordinator with the implementation of ADA-complaint procedures, and train its staff annually on HIV and nondiscrimination obligations, reportsThe News Star.

“This agreement ensures that Union Parish Detention Center will respect the right of individuals with HIV to equal treatment under the law,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division. “Segregation of detainees with HIV in jails or prisons is unlawful, subjects individuals to unwarranted stigma and harm, and will not be tolerated by this Justice Department.”

The settlement also paves the way for better treatment of HIV positive detainees. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990, prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. And that can be applied to people living with HIV. “Persons with HIV disease, either symptomatic or asymptomatic, have physical impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities and thus are protected by the ADA,” as explained on the ADA website.

According to reports, the UPDC has cooperated with the U.S. Department of Justice throughout the investigation. Gary Copes, the warden of the jail, didn’t immediately respond when The Associated Press reached out to him.

The problem surrounding HIV stigma and Louisiana goes beyond UPDC’s failure to provide ethical treatment to HIV positive detainees.

Louisiana is one of three states that impose strict felony punishments for failure to disclose HIV status before sex. Those punishments can result in at least two years in prison. While in recent years some states have taken measures to reform HIV disclosure laws, Louisiana remains one of the most unforgiving states, with strict laws in place.

Other prisons in parishes throughout Louisiana have been plagued with complaints about the treatment of HIV positive detainees. A federal lawsuit was filed against The East Baton Rouge Parish Prison by a then-17-year-old who said he was raped and subsequently infected with HIV while imprisoned. It raised other concerns over how prison inmates are treated in Louisiana jails and prisons.

Meanwhile, Trump’s head of the CDC nominee Robert Redfield has proposed the segregation of people living with HIV within the military. The problem is bigger than UPDC and its not limited to Louisiana.

With the horrors of the worst periods of AIDS epidemics behind us, one of the first instincts to come to mind is to put infected individuals on quarantine, but the real risks of transmitting the virus aren’t solved through segregation in prisons, schools and the military.

Anti-discrimination laws that are in place can be applied to people living with HIV, even when they are incarcerated in prison. People who are interested in learning more about the settlement are encouraged to visit the ADA website.

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Benjamin M. Adams