Shame on Justice Department

(Post and Courier)

These folks are shameless.

This U.S. Justice Department refuses to enforce the Voting Rights Act against ‘Black Panthers’ standing at polling places, carrying weapons and hurling racial epithets; they refuse to enforce the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act and encourage states to disenfranchise military members by using ‘waivers’ to bypass that law; and they refuse to enforce immigration laws in ‘sanctuary’ cities that openly defy our laws while at the same time — and without a hint of shame — suing Arizona for attempting to enforce the immigration laws against illegal immigrants who are arrested for other offenses.

Now the Obama Justice Department is attacking public safety and health. For over a decade, through Democratic and Republican administrations, our prison system has taken a balanced, fair and safe approach to HIV/AIDS. We test every new inmate for HIV/AIDS and inmates who test positive are housed together in a therapeutic unit. This serves several important purposes.

Our policy allows us to provide highly specialized medical expertise. Providing health care for people infected with HIV/AIDS is difficult. Treating inmates, many of whom were without any medical care before coming to prison, is even more specialized. Our medical staff at Broad River Correctional Institution have decades of experience treating HIV/AIDS inmates and they are experts at teaching inmates about living with HIV/AIDS. Even if our state could print money and mortgage the future like this administration, we simply could not replicate this level of care at all of our facilities.

Our policy promotes health and safety. Testing all inmates and treating HIV/AIDS is expensive; many states do not test. But, unlike most prison systems, we know which inmates can impose a death sentence by biting, stabbing or merely inflicting a flesh wound with a contaminated weapon and we have eliminated the spread of HIV/AIDS to other inmates or to staff. Sadly, many infected inmates do not even know that they are infected until we inform them. We protect the public from the spread of HIV/AIDS by informing and educating infected inmates, thus releasing fewer infected inmates. No system is perfect, but our system works. Our policy was implemented during the Clinton administration and beginning then, the ACLU has attempted to convince every administration to bring suit. Apparently, they have found their lapdog.

In its recent letter informing us of their decision to attack health and safety, the Obama administration parrots the same tired ACLU contentions.

First, they argue that all inmates have some magical right to participate in the programs or jobs of their choosing. Participation in programming and holding a job in prison are privileges, not rights. Thousands of inmates are barred from certain programs and jobs for a host of reasons including, but not limited to, their crime and custody level, bad behavior, age, insufficient skills, sentence length, capacity limits, and health reasons. The same is true in free society.

Second, they argue that housing these inmates as a group is somehow unconstitutional. In fact, groups of inmates are housed separately in every prison system. Ironically, such segregation is often required by the same federal government that is now attacking this policy.

It is impossible for every prison to offer each program, class or job across any prison system. Young offenders are housed together based on age; mentally ill inmates, sexual predators, disabled inmates, elderly inmates and assisted living inmates are housed together for security, treatment and safety reasons; dialysis and certain cancer patients are housed together for treatment and therapeutic reasons, as are inmates in addictions treatment. And inmates with highly communicable diseases are housed together and even isolated in special cells, just as a free person would be for the same disease. All of these different ‘groups’ of inmates have access only to the programs at their particular prison. In turn, that prison is resourced to provide programming, accommodation and/or treatment needed by the members of that group.

Third, the Obama administration contends that these inmates are ‘stigmatized.’ Look, these are convicts — not Cub Scouts who got lost on the way to troop meeting. Prison is a voluntary activity; breaking the law, earning a criminal record, and wearing ‘state issue,’ all stigmatize. Since one purpose of prison is punishment, this stigmatization is somewhat intentional. And, despite the best of intentions and policies, in prison things like mental illness, certain diseases and disabilities, obesity, indigence, or illiteracy may stigmatize. In these cases, stigmatization is unintentional. But those things all stigmatize in a free society as well. The Obama administration moves from arrogant to ignorant by suggesting that prisons can be stigma-free in a society full of stigmatization.

For these reasons and others, federal and state courts have repeatedly upheld our HIV/AIDS policies against constitutional challenges. Unfortunately, our tax dollars will now be squandered on the same tired attack on health and safety — a shameful reflection on an administration without shame.