Published July, 2019

The PJP Update, Positive Justice Project (July 2019)

JULY 2019

The Positive Justice Project (PJP) is a national campaign of organizations and individuals, including those living with HIV, viral hepatitis, and other infectious diseases; medical and public health professionals; law enforcement; community organizers; advocates; attorneys; sex workers; social scientists; and others working to end disease and identity criminalization in the United States. We advocate at the federal and state level; create resources to guide policy reform; support attorneys working on HIV criminal cases; and educate, organize, and mobilize communities and policymakers in the United States. The Center for HIV Law and Policy provides ongoing coordination of the Positive Justice Project with the active support of the PJP Partners, the PJP Advisory Group, and the many individual and organizational members of the PJP.

Michael Johnson Released from Prison on Parole

Photo by Leah Klafczynski for The New York Times

Michael Johnson, the college wrestler whose trial and conviction showcased the profound unfairness of HIV criminal laws in Missouri and across the country, was paroled on July 9, 2019. Michael had been arrested and incarcerated in October 2013 based on statements from six former sex partners that he had not disclosed his HIV status. His original conviction and sentence of 30 years was reversed on appeal in December 2016. 

CHLP filed an amicus brief in support of Michael's appeal. The Missouri Court of Appeals denied the state prosecutor's motion to have the decision reconsidered, reheard, or transferred to the Supreme Court of Missouri. The state prosecutor's application to have the case transferred also was denied by the Missouri Supreme Court.

Since Michael's conviction, Missouri legislators have introduced reform bills that have the support of state prosecutors and that are in step with recent reform efforts in California and other states. Timothy Lohmar, whose office prosecuted Michael's case, and who is president of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, recently commented, “I think we have an opportunity to take a look at those laws and understand how they are outdated and antiquated. I think it's time for a change.”

Media coverage of Michael's release has been largely sympathetic and thoughtful, a welcome contrast to the overwhelmingly negative portrayals of him during his trial. For more, see articles and interviews in the New York Times, NPR's The TakeawayFilter, and Channel 5 in St. Louis.

For a complete summary of the case timeline and developments prior to Michael's release, see Missouri v. Johnson, A Fact Sheet and Case Timeline.


CHLP Welcomes Amir Sadeghi to National Community Outreach Role

CHLP is happy to introduce Amir Sadeghi, our new National Community Outreach Coordinator. Amir brings a passion for prison and parole reform, civil rights (and podcasts about civil rights), and advocacy, as well as a talent for writing and enthusiasm for justice. Since starting, Amir has already created fact sheets comparing HIV criminal law reforms in several states and is working closely with Staff Attorney Jada Hicks to broaden and support state coalitions fighting HIV criminalization. Amir also recently joined Staff Attorney Jake Schneider in meetings with more than a dozen state legislators in Albany. Prior to joining CHLP, Amir worked as an assistant to Dr. Chiara Bottici, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research, and he continues to teach debate and public speaking with the Rikers Debate Project at detention facilities on Rikers Island in New York City. 


National Conference Appearances Center on Intersectional Issue Advancement

CHLP’s advocacy work continues to chart new partnerships to pursue HIV justice in the criminal legal system by building intersectional advocacy models that prioritize racial, gender, and economic justice...and leave no one behind. In late March, Staff Attorney Jada Hicks moderated a roundtable discussion at the National Hepatitis Corrections Network Conference in Las Vegas. In one of her presentations, she addressed the criminalization of viral hepatitis, stigma, and the misunderstanding surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of viral hepatitis. Phil Waters of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation and Mike Selick from Harm Reduction Coalition co-facilitated the discussion. In early April, Jada attended the national AIDSWatch conference in Washington, DC. She presented on HIV, the viral hepatitis/overdose syndemic, and syringe access. At another session on sex worker health and representation in a post-SESTA/FOSTA world, she spoke about the criminalization of HIV and the disproportionate impact criminalization has on sex workers.



PJP Advisory Group Call for Membership

The PJP Advisory Group is a unique national network of engaged advocates and social and civil rights organizations from across the U.S. who are interested in ending HIV criminalization. 

The Advisory Group was formed to provide a vehicle for individual community members, and the many diverse experiences and skills they offer, to inform the work of the PJP and the national conversation on the criminalization of HIV, viral hepatitis, IV drug use, and sex work. The expertise and lived experiences of PJP Advisory Group members can provide powerful ways of understanding the landscape of the movement and developing strategies for future projects. If you are committed to ending the criminal law response to HIV and other over-policed diseases and identities, support the basic principles of the PJP, and are interested in becoming a member of the PJP Advisory group, please email Amir Sadeghi at [email protected]. We seek membership applications from community members who live in states currently prosecuting people on the basis of their HIV or viral hepatitis status, and who want to build or amplify local efforts to end this.

CHLP believes that the time and expertise of community experts is valuable and should be compensated. Starting in August, we will offer an hourly stipend to active Advisory Group members participating in calls, meetings, and related work who are not paid staff of an organization.



State Advocacy Working Groups

The Arkansas HIV Reform Initiative coalition is in development and working on growing their coalition and expanding outreach to local community members. Planning meetings are held on the second Thursday of the month at 11:00 AM (CT). To get involved, contact Jada Hicks at [email protected].

Advocates who would like to help monitor the implementation of legislation that successfully reformed California’s HIV criminal laws should contact Craig Pulsipher, AIDS Project Los Angeles, at [email protected] or Arneta Rogers, ACLU, at [email protected] for additional information. You can find the full text and analysis of current California law on exposure to infectious diseases in CHLP’s National HIV Policy Resource Bank.

An HIV criminal law reform bill sponsored by Rep. Duran (D-112), HB 79, died in the House Judiciary Committee, while an identical bill filed by Sen. Pizzo (D-38), SB 846, died in the Health Policy Committee. CHLP’s analysis of those bills is here.

Another set of bills that addressed criminal justice reform were considered before the state’s legislative session adjourned in early May. The Senate declined to vote on SB 642, a criminal justice reform package that included HIV reform provisions. A similar bill sponsored by Reps. Renner (R-24) and Daniels (D-14), HB 7125, passed both chambers and will go to Governor DeSantis. While this bill concerns criminal justice reform, unlike SB 642 it does not contain language addressing HIV criminalization. An effort to add language addressing HIV criminalization was filed by Sen. Linda Stewart (D-13), but the amendment was not heard and is not included in the bill. For additional information on the central issues raised in the Florida bills, contact Jada Hicks at [email protected]

Florida HIV Justice Coalition Meetings are held on the third Thursday of the month at 1:00 PM (ET). To get involved, contact Kamaria Laffrey at [email protected].

The Georgia HIV Justice Coalition’s most recent convening was dedicated to planning for National HIV Testing Day in June. Meetings are held on the third Wednesday of the month at 6:30 PM (ET). To participate, contact Johnnie Kornegay at [email protected].

In February, the House of Representatives voted 99-0 to approve HB1325, a bill that would have made significant changes to Indiana's communicable disease transmission statute. It was assigned for a hearing in the Senate Public Health Committee where the chair decided not to call a vote on the bill before the state’s legislative session adjourned on April 29. The bill would have revised several outdated HIV public health codes and repealed one related criminal code, including updating outdated language, reducing penalties for blood and semen donations from felony to misdemeanor, and changes to the public health code that relate to HIV. 

To learn more about the Indiana HIV Modernization Movement or to support local advocacy related to HB1325, contact Carrie Foote at [email protected].

In early June, the Coalition turned its attention to a new regulation that allows for retention of names and contact information for individuals who test negative for HIV, HCV, and syphilis. In view of policymakers’ rejection of real criminal law reform, coalition members have concerns about the use and potential misuse of this personal information and whether its collection actually serves legitimate public health surveillance goals.

The Louisiana Coalition on Criminalization and Health holds advocacy planning calls on the second Wednesday of the month at 11:00 AM (CT). If you are interested in working with the coalition, contact Chip Eakins at [email protected]

Changes to Michigan's HIV criminal law went into effect earlier in 2019. For details on the changes, see our online Sourcebook as well as our Michigan state page. For information about recent changes to the law in Michigan, please contact Jada Hicks at [email protected].

House Committee Substitute (HCS) bill for HB 166 (Rep. McCreery) and HB 167 (Rep. Rehder) was advanced and amended by the House Health & Mental Health Policy Committee. The Missouri HIV Justice Coalition hoped there would be an opportunity to negotiate with the committee to merge elements of HB166 and HB167 to address critical limitations of HCS, including felony-level punishments and no language conveying that a person is not acting with intent to harm if they use preventative measures that reduce transmission risk. However, debate in the House led to the adoption of four amendments, two of which were unacceptable to advocates. No further action was taken on HCS before the end of the legislative session. Coalition members secured important allies and learned a lot from this experience, and are gearing up for the next round of advocacy when the legislature reconvenes. 

In early May, CHLP appeared on a panel presentation on HIV criminalization as part of GK Callahan’s exhibit, Mapping Stigma: An Archive of the Contracting An Issue Project, at Leedy-Volkous Art Center in Kansas City, Missouri. The discussion featured national and regional perspectives including from a Missouri resident directly affected by HIV criminal laws. Staff Attorney Jada Hicks discussed the national landscape of HIV criminalization with (standing) Jeanette Mott Oxford, Empower Missouri; Robert Richardson, MO HIV Justice Coalition; community organizer Diane Burkholder; Evonnia Wood, Reproaction; and (seated) LaTrischa Miles, KC CARE Health Center; and artist GK Callahan.

On June 12, the coalition held an in-person meeting to recap reform efforts that took place in the most recent legislative session, to discuss lessons learned, and work on a strategy for future legislative sessions. Meetings are held on the second Friday of the month at 1:00 PM (CT). For more information, email [email protected], or visit the coalition’s website.

A bill creating an Advisory Task Force on HIV Exposure Modernization with members appointed by the governor, SB 284, passed both the House and Senate. Thanks to input from CHLP, the UCLA's Office of Public Interest Programs, and Equality Nevada, SB 284 was amended to remove stigmatizing language from the bill and to add more focus and specifics to the membership and mission of the Task Force. With the amendments, the legislation now limits Task Force membership to 15 people, requiring that “the majority of members are people living with HIV, people affected by HIV/AIDS, and/or people from occupations, organizations, or communities who are more broadly affected, or at risk of being affected by current statutes and regulations of this State that criminalize exposure to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).” Equally important, and rather than a general review and report on current laws, the Task Force is now explicitly directed, as part of its examination of criminal laws related to HIV, to “research the implementation and impact of such statutes and regulations including, but not limited to ... any disparities in arrests, prosecutions, or convictions ... related to race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, or national origin;" and to "... assess developments in other states and nationally with respect to modernizing HIV criminalization laws.”
The Task Force report of its findings and recommendations is due to the governor and the Legislative Counsel Bureau by September 1, 2020. 

In early April, the Ohio Health Modernization Movement held its 2019 Summit in Columbus. Staff Attorney Jada Hicks joined national and state advocates in discussing lessons learned from HIV criminal law reform efforts in other states and the different pathways coalitions have used to approach state-wide reform including with (pictured) Ashley Quinn formerly of Empower Missouri, Robert Suttle of Sero, and Devin Hursey of MO HIV Justice Coalition. 

CHLP has been working with the OHMM and Equality Ohio on proposed bill language to reform the state’s felonious assault statute.

The next Ohio Health Modernization Movement meeting is in September. They are held every other month on the third Monday at 5:00 PM (CT). If you are interested in more information, contact [email protected].

Southern States
The Southern HIV Decriminalization Network will reconvene in July with a call on the fourth Thursday of the month at 3:00 PM (ET). The network shares information and ideas about the work of state groups in the South to reform their laws, and on case developments of interest to the group. To join the call, contact Charles Stephens at [email protected].

CHLP recently started working with advocates from ECHO VA (Ending Criminalization of HIV and Over-incarceration in Virginia). The group was founded in June 2018 by Deirdre Speaks and Dr. Cedric Pullman to reform the state’s HIV-specific criminal laws and is currently focused on expanding their membership and finalizing their policy agenda. Meetings are held every month. To participate, contact Deirdre Speaks or Dr. Cedric Pullman at [email protected].

CHLP continues to work closely with lead stakeholders, including former CHLP staff member Lauren Fanning, as the legal lead on draft language for a bill that will transform Washington’s Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) code, RCW 70.24, by repealing the felony exposure provisions and moving misdemeanor charges for conduct intended to transmit disease from the criminal code to the public health code. The new requirement for specific intent to infect another person with HIV is a particularly significant reform. While the bill did not advance this year, advocates plan to push for reform in the next legislative session. For more information, please contact Jada Hicks at [email protected]