RENO — The Nevada prisons system says it will keep inmates’ HIV status confidential, as officials continue to grapple with a warning from the Justice Department that accuses the state of discriminating against prisoners.
Nevada Department of Corrections spokeswoman Brooke Keast said Tuesday that the agency will limit the number of people who will be privy to inmates’ HIV status in an effort to curb alleged segregation policies in housing and job assignments.
The move, first reported by the Las Vegas Sun, is in response to a June letter from the Justice Department’s Disability Rights Section that accused the state prison system of systemic discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The federal authorities slammed the state for perpetuating stigma surrounding the disease, based largely on unfounded fears about the transmission of HIV.
The human immunodeficiency virus causes AIDS but cannot be transmitted through ordinary activities such as shaking hands or sharing drinking glasses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Aside from the pledge not to share inmate HIV statuses with correctional officers, Keast said the state is still working out an action plan to ensure a safe and humane environment for all inmates, with more specifics expected in the near future. A full response to the Justice Department’s concerns is also pending.
The Justice Department launched an ADA compliance review in Nevada after receiving complaints from two inmates at the High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs. After interviewing more than 30 inmates and more than 20 corrections workers, the department concluded Nevada’s “house alike/house alone” policy “stigmatizes inmates with HIV and indiscriminately disclosed their confidential HIV status to NDOC employees and inmates.”
As a result, inmates with HIV have been exposed to “potential harm from inmates who may hold unfounded fears of, or prejudices against, those with HIV,” the department said, adding that other “inmates have harassed or threatened those whom they believe have HIV.”
The findings come at a time Nevada’s prisons have a new administrator who’s seeking funding and promising reforms and rehabilitation after years of complaints by advocates and attorneys about violence behind bars as well as food, medical and dental treatment. Among other things, since taking the job in April, James Dzurenda has ended a policy that let prison guards fire birdshot to stop inmate scuffles.