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Last updated 5:55PM ET
February 25, 2021
Alabama
Alabama
Advocates: Alabama Alone Bars HIV Inmates from Work Release
(2008-03-24)
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - Tutwiler prison inmate Kathryn Canty has all the qualities of a prime work release candidate. She has a good behavior record, less than three years left to serve and an accounting degree along with several vocational certificates. But she also has HIV.

And prisoner advocates say Alabama is the only state with a prison system that bars those inmates with HIV from participating in work release.

Canty finishes her 4 1/2-year sentence next month.

Describing herself as a worker, Canty says work release would have been a great help for her to catch up with technology as well as saving money to get back on her feet.

Work release is the closest thing to freedom behind bars in Alabama, allowing select inmates to hold free-world jobs, earn money, wear plain clothes and spend the day without supervision of corrections staff.

Scoring a spot in the program is coveted, but inmates have to meet several criteria first, and being HIV-free is one of them.

David Fathi, director of the U.S. Program of Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit group that monitors human rights cases worldwide, says many states have a work release system. He says Alabama is the only state that does not allow prisoners who are HIV positive to participate in work release.

"If 49 other states can allow HIV positive prisoners," says Fathi, "Alabama could do it too."

Alabama corrections officials attribute the ban in part to medical requirements, including special diets and nurse-observed pill taking for HIV inmates, reached in a 2004 settlement of a lawsuit over dismal health care for those with the virus that causes AIDS.

The department maintains that Alabama's work release program is unique in allowing inmates to be free of staff supervision, making the medical monitoring stipulations under the settlement impossible to meet.

But prison officials in several states, including Southern neighbors Tennessee, Louisiana, Florida and North Carolina, said they have work release programs similar to Alabama's, and none of them bar inmates with HIV from being eligible.

Some Alabama lawmakers and the American Civil Liberties Union have been pressing state corrections officials to remove the work release restriction.

Alabama Corrections Commissioner Richard Allen says the situation is under review and that the issue is not a large one because of the small number of HIV inmates. At last count, there were 15 HIV-positive females at Tutwiler prison and about 278 HIV-positive males at the Limestone prison for men.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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