South Carolina Prisons and Basic HIV Science: Never the Twain Shall Meet

Perhaps you’ve heard that the U.S. Department of Justice is threatening to bring suit against the South Carolina Department of Corrections for its treatment of prisoners with HIV. While the rest of the country (almost) has figured out that HIV-positive prisoners don’t need to to segregated from the general prison population, South Carolina persists (along with that other bastion of progressive thought, Alabama). And mind you, South Carolina keeps HIV-positive prisoners in maximum security units.

If that’s not bad enough, the South Carolina Department of Corrections also bars HIV-positive prisoners from certain types of prison jobs, including kitchen work. Has anyone in South Carolina bothered to note that the CDC has never included HIV on its list of conditions that preclude people from food handling? Are these people still living in 1981?

HIV-positive inmates are also ineligible for work release. Even Alabama isn’t that stupid.

In a smug, blustery, facts-be-damned op-ed piece in The State, Jon Ozmint, director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, called the threatened lawsuit “an attack on public health and safety” (rather than, say, an attempt to enforce the Americans With Disabilities Act). How does Ozmint justify his assertion? First he points out that his prison system tests every incoming inmate for HIV. Then he adds that “unlike most prison systems, we know which inmates can impose a death sentence by biting, stabbing, or merely inflicting a flesh wound with a contaminated weapon.” A death sentence from a bite? And South Carolina actually leaves this pinhead in a position of authority?

If you’d like to read Ozmint’s nonsense, you’ll find it here. If you’d like to read a reasoned response, go to the Center for HIV Law & Policy’s blog here.

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