Is Segregation of HIV Positive Inmates Ethical?
The day begins, just like every other day. Tommy clocks in and starts his shift at Utah State Prison. An hour before the end of his shift, he does one last check of the prisoners. As he walks by one of the cells, the inmate throws a sharp object at him and it barely scrapes his arm and it starts to bleed. The react team subdues the inmate and Tommy thinks nothing of the small cut. A few months later, Tommy is tested for HIV and is found to be positive. Instantly, Tommy knows that the only way that he could have contracted HIV was from the inmate incident. The sharp object had HIV-positive blood on it. A situation like this could play out in today’s correctional system. This is just one of the many reasons why HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)-positive inmates should be identified and segregated in the correctional institutions.
Before segregation can happen, it is needed to know which inmates are HIV-positive. The best way to do this is through mandatory testing. The testing should be done when they first enter the correctional system and then every few years. The reason for not testing the inmates when they leave the system is because the threat that they pose would be leaving. By doing this testing, it ensures that the majority of the HIV-positive inmates are discovered. This testing is needed first to ensure that the appropriate medical care is provided and secondly, to ensure that only the appropriate inmates are segregated.
The first reason for segregation is to help protect the inmates and the correctional staff. When the HIV-positive inmates are identified, it helps the staff know that extra precautions are needed in certain areas. By doing this, it helps reduce the likelihood of an inmate using HIV-positive blood as a biological attack on both staff and other inmates. This barrier would also stave off the ability of a non-infected inmate to obtain infected blood from another inmate, who is HIV-positive. Even though this seems far fetched, inmates are innovative in their ability to find ways to hurt staff and other inmates.
The second way that segregation protects is focused on the general population. HIV is spread through contact with HIV-positive blood. Bother inter venous drug use and homosexual activity increase the likelihood of coming in contact with infected blood. Despite knowing this, inmates are more likely to do inter venous drugs and homosexual activity than people not in prisons, thus making them more likely to contract HIV. By separating the HIV-positive, it helps stop or slow down HIV by limiting these two dangerous activities. One important note on this is that inmates should be strongly taught that despite the segregation, it is still possible that there are inmates that are HIV-positive that have not been discovered yet.
The third group that is protected by the segregation is the HIV-positive inmates. HIV eventually grows into AIDS, which does not kill a person directly. The way that it kills is by lowering the infected person’s immune system, making them more vulnerable to disease. That disease is what kills them. “Prisons have become the perfect incubator for Tuberculosis (TB) and other communicable diseases due to the overcrowded conditions and a general lack of ventilation.” (Robinette 196). By separating the HIV-positive inmates, it can lower the likelihood of contracting diseases, like TB, that could kill them.
The second way that segregation protects the HIV-positive inmates is by creating a barrier from the general population inmates. Some inmates could be violent to inmates that are HIV-positive, just because they are seen as negative. This negative behavior usually comes from the misconception that all HIV-positive people are homosexual or inferior. This barrier made by segregation would prevent this violence from happening.
Another way that segregation is ethical is because it ensures that the appropriate medical care is given. If an inmate is identified early enough, the onset of AIDS could be slowed down. As Robinette described, “the treatment of HIV prior to the onset of AIDS costs $2000 to $3000 less for prison inmates than for members of the general public” (p196). This results in both the taxpayer saving money and the HIV-positive inmates in receiving the appropriate preventative care and medical treatment.
A second medical perspective would be that it would enable the staff to provide counseling and education both to the HIV-positive and HIV-negative inmates. The HIV-positive inmates could have group discussions and support networks with other HIV-positive inmates, which would help them mentally deal with having the deadly disease. This would help both populations also learn how it is contracted, how to prevent it, and what they need to do if they contract it. This could eventually lead to a lower high risk behavior done by the inmates.
The third and final reason that segregation is ethical is due to the legal responsibilities of the correctional system. Robinette described that more and more legal cases are being brought against correctional facilities for not segregating or testing inmates for HIV, or if they did know, failure to warn. This comes from the legal requirements that a correctional facility protect both the inmates and the staff. Another legal requirement is that sufficient medical care be provided. By testing and segregating, it helps both of these legal requirements be fulfilled. As for the segregation being cruel and inhumane punishment, it is not, because the separation, because the separation is for health purposes and the segregation benefits the inmates. It is not done to suppress, diminish, or hurt them.
As shown, the segregation of HIV-positive inmates is ethical and needed. This would help protect all parties, provide the appropriate medical care, and fulfill the legal requirements of the system. By reading this article, hopefully, the story that started this article would not happen and more prisons would see that the segregation of HIV-positive inmates is needed.