MDOC ends HIV-positive prisoner food service ban

By | 2010-08-26T09:00:00-04:00 August 26th, 2010|News|

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Since July 19, the Michigan Department of Corrections no longer bars HIV-positive inmates from working in food service positions. HIV-positive prisoners had been barred from such jobs, considered some of the most desirable – as well as the highest-paying – jobs in the prison system, for years by departmental policy.
The policy first came to light in April of 2009. At the time, a spokesman for MDOC explained their thinking behind the ban. “A prison holds about 1,000, 1,200 people and as those 1,000 prisoners go through for breakfast, lunch and dinner, prisoners are scooping that food onto their trays,” said MDOC spokesman Russ Marlan. “So if a prisoner was HIV-positive and sneezed onto a food item and then a prisoner ate that food item and that prisoner had a lesion in their mouth they could contract the disease.”
That reasoning, officials from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights said, would violate state and federal laws.
Corrections officials eventually settled on a reason for the policy as safety and security in the facilities. Arguing that other inmates might cause issues if they knew a person feeding them in the chow line was HIV-positive. That reasoning was deemed legal by MDCR.
But in November of last year, corrections officials said they were moving to change the policy. And while the policy change took longer than originally planned, it is now complete.
The new policy was released to Michigan Messenger Aug. 20 in an eight-page document dealing with communicable disease in the prison system. The new policy language reads: “Offenders with a communicable bloodborne infection are eligible for any housing, work, or school assignment or other program which their behavior and health allows, except that a prisoner shall not be assigned to work in a health service area. For example, a prisoner with a communicable bloodborne infection may work in a food service area unless s/he also has a condition which should disqualify anyone from working with food or food contact surfaces, such as cuts, sores, and dermatitis (above the torso), diarrhea, uncontrolled cough, runny nose, and poor general hygiene.”
People with HIV and advocates for the community are hailing the policy change.
“It is good to see that this policy now reflects science instead of fear. People living with HIV already have to deal with a myriad of issues related to their health as they face life with a terminal illness,” said Mark Peterson, spokesperson for the Michigan Positive Action Coalition. “Stigmatizing them solely based on the fact that they have this illness is uninformed and cruel. There is no known transmission risk for HIV in this instance and the policy was created out of ignorance and fear.”

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