A legal battle that has been playing out for 26 years is coming to a close with the first of two fairness hearings between the ACLU and the Alabama Department of Corrections or ADC. The hearings are part of a process that goes into motion when a party moves to settle a class-action lawsuit, like the ACLU brought against ADC in order to stop a policy that segregates inmates that are HIV-positive or suffering with symptoms of AIDS.
According to USA Today, Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project, said that this has been part of an ongoing process that began in 1987. A number of litigation attempts failed for the ACLU, with decisions coming in 1990, 1997, and 2000 that said that segregation policy did not violate the law. However, as new facts emerged in the case, the ACLU filed one more suit in 2011.
US District Court Judge Myron Thompson ruled last December that the policy did indeed violate the law, specifically the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, Judge Thompson did not decide the specifics of the rollback or policy changes. The number of facilities that would be integrated and the criteria for inmates’ eligibility in prison programs is going to be left up to the ADC and ACLU to hash out in these hearings.
The policy was put in place back when very little was known about HIV and AIDS, but as more has been learned about the disease and advances in treatments have made it manageable, there is little or no safety concern for these inmates to live alongside the general population. So far only female inmates have been integrated at one facility, and males will be integrated next month. As the hearings progress, all other Alabama institutions are expected to follow suit.