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Commissioner says HIV inmates will be less segregated

MONTGOMERY (AP) — HIV-positive inmates who are segregated in units at two prisons are being allowed more contact with the general inmate population under policy changes, Corrections Commissioner Richard Allen announced Wednesday.

But the unit for men at Limestone prison near Capshaw and for women at Tutwiler prison near Wetumpka will remain segregated for "safety and prevention purposes," Allen said.

Under the changes, the inmates with the virus that causes AIDS will be allowed to visit with family members and attend religious services along with non-HIV inmates. Women in the HIV unit at Tutwiler also will be able to eat meals with other inmates, but those in the unit at Limestone won't because of space limitations, Allen said.

"Much has been learned about the transmission of HIV in the last 20 years, and many fears about its spread are unfounded," the commissioner said in a statement. "We are very proud that our in-prison transmission rate is almost zero and that, because of the level of health care provided, most are in better health upon release than when first incarcerated."

Improved treatment

The state improved its medical treatment of inmates in the HIV unit at Limestone under a 2004 settlement of a lawsuit that said health care was so substandard it contributed to early deaths.

Alabama's prison system has been one of the most restrictive in its segregation of HIV-positive inmates, but it has relaxed its policies in recent years.

"HIV positive inmates have been participating in Trade School and Adult Basic Education classes with general population inmates for more than a year without incident," said Billy Mitchem, the warden at Limestone.

"Thanks to tremendous medical improvements over the past decade and ongoing educational efforts for both employees and inmates, this unit is actually one of our better units to manage," he said.

Dana Harley, a Tutwiler inmate with HIV who began serving a sentence for theft and forgery in June of 2002, welcomed the policy changes, particularly the ability to see her son without the stigma of segregation.

"I look forward to visiting with all the other mothers and children in the AIM (Aid to Inmate Mother's) program," she said in the prison system news release. "I have a 7 year-old, and he's had questions as to why he had to visit in another room, away from the other children."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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