Justice Department Reaches Agreement with Nevada to End Discriminatory Policies Against Inmates with HIV and Inmates with Disabilities
(STL.News) The Justice Department today reached a settlement agreement with Nevada to ensure that inmates with HIV are not illegally segregated or otherwise discriminated against on the basis of HIV status and that inmates with disabilities are provided an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) programs.
The agreement resolves the department’s findings that NDOC violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by unjustifiably isolating and segregating inmates with HIV, failing to keep their HIV status confidential, and denying them equal employment opportunities, including in food service positions. The department found that NDOC’s HIV housing policy stigmatized inmates with HIV and had the effect of indiscriminately disclosing their confidential HIV status to NDOC employees and inmates. As leading public health and correctional authorities oppose the routine segregation of inmates with HIV as medically unnecessary, the department determined that NDOC’s policy had no legitimate health justification. Nevada has since taken steps to desegregate inmates with HIV and also cooperated with the department throughout the investigation.
The agreement also resolves the department’s findings that NDOC denied inmates with disabilities — including mobility disabilities, HIV, and other physical or mental health conditions — classification and housing at lower-custody levels and facilities. These facilities offer opportunities for inmates to gradually reintegrate back into the community, including various employment positions and reintegration programs, and earn additional credits to reduce the lengths of their sentences. By denying inmates with disabilities opportunities to participate in these programs, the department found that NDOC deprived them of an equal opportunity to engage in productive activities and to accelerate their NDOC release dates. NDOC also confined certain inmates with disabilities for longer periods and in more restrictive settings than they otherwise would have been housed, such as medium or high custody facilities.
“The routine segregation of inmates with HIV is unnecessary, stigmatizing, and harmful, and the Department of Justice will enforce the ADA to stop such discrimination. Compliance with the ADA ensures that prisoners with disabilities have equal access to educational, rehabilitative, and other programs and opportunities available to other inmates,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan of the Civil Rights Division. “We commend Nevada for working collaboratively with the department, ending its illegal segregation of inmates based on HIV, and integrating current and future inmates with disabilities into critical community reintegration housing placements and programs.”
Among the terms of the agreement, Nevada will amend its policies, practices, and procedures to ensure that inmates with HIV are not isolated or segregated solely because of their HIV status and will keep information related to inmates’ disabilities confidential. Nevada will also ensure that qualified inmates with disabilities are not excluded from employment opportunities and lower-custody classifications, housing placements, services, and programs. The agreement also requires Nevada to train NDOC staff and inmates on HIV and disability discrimination, designate statewide and facility-specific ADA Coordinators, and implement an ADA grievance procedure.