In a letter issued to the Nevada Department of Corrections [PDF] on June 20, the Department of Justice accused the state of subjecting people with HIV and other disabilities to a variety of forms of segregation and stigmatization, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“As a result of the NDOC’s unnecessary segregation policy, the NDOC has exposed inmates with HIV to potential harm from inmates who may hold unfounded fears of, or prejudices against, those with HIV,” the letter states. “Inmates have harassed or threatened those whom they believe have HIV.”
Under the agency’s “House Alike/House Alone” policy, people with HIV are prohibited from sharing a cell with people without HIV. In some cases, people with HIV are held in isolation for days or weeks at a time, pending arrival of other inmates with HIV.
As a way for inmates to “earn credits” that reduce their sentences, the NDOC offers inmates various employment opportunities. In its investigation, the DOJ found that prison staff frequently excluded such individuals from culinary jobs, on the long-disproved basis that HIV can be transmitted by consuming food handled by people with HIV.
In the NDOC’s system, people with lower security risks are often placed in so-called transitional housing or in conservation programs, where, under the supervision of NDOC’s employees, they participate in activities such as roadside litter removal and and landscape beautifications.
According to the DOJ letter, people with disabilities are barred from the transitional housing option and prohibited from the conservation programs if they have mobility disabilities, chronic disabilities, or are in need of certain medications.
“By virtue of having a mental health condition, mobility disability, HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, diabetes, asthma, or any one of the various other medical conditions that the NDOC deems ‘chronic,’ many inmates with disabilities serve longer sentences, in more restrictive settings, than inmates who do not have disabilities,” the letter states.
The DOJ, according to the letter, is giving NDOC until July 11 to contact the DOJ to signal its willingness to seek a settlement, or the agency will commence litigation.