Ending Discrimination Against Individuals Incarcerated with HIV in Nevada

On February 11, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice reached an agreement with the State of Nevada to ensure that inmates living with HIV are not illegally separated from the rest of the prison population or otherwise discriminated against, and that they may participate fully in and benefit from Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) programs.

Earlier, the DOJ had determined that the NDOC had violated Title II of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) by isolating and segregating inmates with HIV, violating the confidentiality of their serostatus, and denying them in-prison work opportunities, e.g., in food service programs.

For years, the NDOC had segregated HIV-positive inmates from the rest of the prison population, stigmatizing inmates with HIV and, effectively, indiscriminately disclosing their confidential HIV status to NDOC employees and inmates. Leading public health and correctional authorities oppose the routine segregation of inmates with HIV as medically unnecessary; thus, the department determined that NDOC’s policy had no legitimate health justification. Nevada has since taken steps to desegregate inmates with HIV.

The agreement also resolves the department’s findings that NDOC denied inmates with disabilities (mobility disabilities, HIV, and other physical or mental health conditions) lower-custody levels classification and facilities. These facilities offer opportunities for inmates to reintegrate back into the community, 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 NDOC deprived them of equal opportunity to engage in productive activities and to accelerate their NDOC release dates.

“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,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan of the Civil Rights Division said in a press release. “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.”

Under the agreement reached with the DOJ, Nevada will 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. The NDOC will also ensure that qualified inmates 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.

—Reporting by Hank Trout

Hank Trout, Senior Editor, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a forty-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his husband Rick.