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Judge halts Alabama policy of segregating HIV-positive inmates, which violates federal disabilities law

| Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, 5:14 p.m.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A judge struck down Alabama's decades-old policy of segregating prison inmates with HIV, ruling on Friday that it violates federal disabilities law.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled in favor of inmates who sued to end the long-standing practice and said he would give the state and inmate attorneys time to propose a way to bring state prisons into compliance with his order.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of seven HIV-positive inmates, called the decision “historic.”

Prisons Commissioner Kim Thomas issued a statement saying corrections officials were studying the ruling and had not decided “our next course of action.

He said the department “is very disappointed with the conclusions and characterizations reached by the Court.”

“The men and women of the ADOC are not prejudiced against HIV-positive inmates, and have worked hard over the years to improve their health care, living conditions, and their activities,” Thomas said. “The ADOC remains committed to providing appropriate housing for all of its inmates, including the HIV-positive population, ensuring that these inmates receive a constitutional level of medical care and that the correctional system in Alabama does not further contribute to the current HIV epidemic in our State.”

Alabama and South Carolina are the only states that segregate HIV-positive prisoners. The class-action lawsuit accused the state of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“It spells an end to a segregation policy that has inflicted needless misery on Alabama prisoners with HIV and their families,” said ACLU attorney Margaret Winter, who was lead counsel for the plaintiffs during a monthlong trial.

Neither the lawsuit or the judge's ruling mentions South Carolina.

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