Henderson et al. v. Thomas et al., Case No. 2:11-cv-00224-MHT (M.D. Ala. Dec. 21, 2012)

Court and Agency Decisions and Orders (including case law)

A United States District Court judge held that the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) HIV segregation policy, which categorically segregates HIV-positive prisoners from the general prison population, was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The court ruled that ADOC can no longer discriminate against prisoners with HIV by housing them separately from all other prisoners and categorically denying them equal access to prison programs. At the time of this decision, Alabama was one of only two states that segregated prisoners on the basis of their HIV status. Almost all HIV-positive prisoners were assigned to separate housing facilities and were restricted from participating in various prison programs including work release, drug rehabilitation programs, and other privileges.

The case was brought by seven HIV positive prisoners claiming that the policy discriminated against them on the basis of a disability (HIV status) in violation of the ADA. The court found that the segregation policy was based on outdated and unsupported assumptions about HIV. In particular, the court found that ADOC's policy requiring HIV-positive prisoners to wear white armbands was profoundly stigmatizing, functioned as a form of forced disclosure, and did not serve a legitimate purpose. While the court declined to resolve the challenge to the ADOC's work-release policy, it found that HIV-positive prisoners with serious mental health or substance abuse problems were wrongfully excluded from important treatment programs.

The court mandated that the ADOC prisoners with disabilities must be housed in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of the individual. While not all HIV-positive prisoners are entitled to commingle with the general population, each prisoner is entitled to a case-by-case assessment to ensure his rights are protected under the ADA. The court stated it would address the unresolved challenge to the ADOC's work-release policy at a later date.