August 26, 2010
The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) has lifted its 11-year-long ban on HIV-positive inmates serving food, according to a report in The Michigan Messenger. Food service is considered one of the highest-paid and most-coveted jobs in the state's prisons.
Last year, in defense of the ban, MDOC spokesperson Russ Marlan said that the risk of transmission would be too high if HIV-positive inmates were allowed to pass out meals. "A prison holds about 1,000, 1,200 people, and as those 1,000 prisoners go through for breakfast, lunch and dinner, prisoners are scooping that food onto their trays," he said. "So if a prisoner was HIV-positive and sneezed onto a food item, and then a prisoner ate that food item and that prisoner had a lesion in their mouth, they could contract the disease."
But now, perhaps due to pressure from civil rights groups, the MDOC has overturned its ban. The department stated that inmates living with HIV can work in food service -- but also noted that they cannot have "cuts, sores, and dermatitis (above the torso), diarrhea, uncontrolled cough, runny nose, and poor general hygiene." The Messenger didn't report whether HIV-negative food workers must follow these same provisions, but nevertheless some HIV advocates in Michigan support the policy change.
Jon Ozmint, the director of South Carolina's prison system, stated that he has no intention of changing the policy. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced it supports the DOJ, stating that South Carolina's policies stigmatize HIV-positive inmates and prohibit equal access to programs and jobs.
South Carolina and Alabama are the only states in the U.S. that have these HIV-related inmate segregation policies. Mississippi agreed to end its segregation policy earlier this year.
TheBody.com will closely monitor the developments in South Carolina and will provide updates.
Kellee Terrell is TheBody.com's former news editor.
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