• Lambda Legal client John Dorn. Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal.

Michigan Department of Corrections to Amend Policies for Incarcerated People Living With HIV

BTL Staff
By | 2018-11-21T10:46:36-04:00 November 21st, 2018|Michigan, News|

This month, Lambda Legal and Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service announced the successful settlement of a 2015 lawsuit filed on behalf of John Dorn against the Michigan Department of Corrections. Lambda Legal is an organization dedicated to earning fully equal civil rights for the LGBTQ community, and the MPAS works to help Michigan adults with disabilities. The lawsuit was filed after Dorn was disciplined “far more severely than another incarcerated man based solely on his HIV status, which was in violation of Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act.”
“After Mr. Dorn and the other man were accused of engaging in consensual sexual activity, Mr. Dorn was immediately taken from the lowest-level security facility to the highest and placed in solitary confinement where he remained for more than 21 months, whereas the HIV-negative person was given only a 30-day loss of privileges,” said a Lambda Legal press release.
However, the settlement with the MDOC and Dorn includes “substantive changes to the MDOC policy directive that allowed disproportionate punishment of incarcerated people living with HIV without adequate justification.” Additionally, MDOC is required to review and reconsider the punishment of other HIV-positive inmates and a monetary settlement of $150,000.
“While this outcome has taken many years to achieve, it was worth the fight, I lost over 21 months of my life to solitary confinement for no good reason because of the prior MDOC policy directive,” Dorn said. “No human being should have to endure that type of punishment. In my case, the directive that led to nearly two years of isolation was based on old science. It was also based on a presumption that did not consider the actual risk of transmission.”
Dorn added that he is both proud to have survived to tell his story, and to have positively impacted HIV-positive Michiganders who may find themselves involved with MDOC — which now must comply with federal disability law.
“We are pleased with the outcome, not only for Mr. Dorn, but also for other incarcerated people living with HIV in MDOC custody,” said Richard Saenz, Lambda Legal senior sttorney and criminal justice and police misconduct strategist.
“Advocating for and protecting the legal rights of people with disabilities in Michigan is the state-designated work of the Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service,” added Chris Davis, a Michigan protection and advocacy service staff attorney. “No one’s HIV status should result in policy decisions and draconian punishments predicated on outdated information and science. We worked for many years with Lambda Legal on behalf of Mr. Dorn and are pleased that we have been able to get this discriminatory and outdated policy changed.”
Lambda Legal Counsel and HIV Project Director Scott Schoettes went on to emphasize that this issue, and many others surrounding HIV status, arose because of stigma surrounding HIV. Schoettes said that the policy updates are the surest way to help end unfair associations.
“Like state laws that unjustifiably criminalize the sex lives of people living with HIV, these policies in correctional settings have not kept up with the science and the benefits of consistent medical treatment, which makes it impossible to transmit HIV,” he said. “Changes to these outdated laws and policies are critical, and Lambda Legal will continue to fight for these changes through the courts and legislatures all across the country.”
To find out more about Lambda Legal and its various cases, go online to lambdalegal.org. For more information about the Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service, visit mpas.org.

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BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 25th anniversary.