- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) Prison inmate Kathryn Canty seems like a prime candidate for work release: good behavior, less than three years left to serve, and an accounting degree along with vocational training.

But she also has HIV.

Inmate advocates say Alabama is the only state that bars prisoners with the AIDS virus from participating in work release.

“I’m a worker,” said Canty, who finishes her 4½-year sentence for forgery and theft next month. “Work release would have been a great help for me to catch up with technology as well as saving money to get back on my feet.”

Work release is the closest thing to freedom for prisoners in Alabama, allowing select inmates to hold jobs on the outside, earn money and wear street clothes. They typically work at blue-collar jobs during the day and return to prison at night.

Alabama Corrections Department officials said HIV-infected inmates are barred because of a 2004 settlement under which the prison system agreed to watch such prisoners take their AIDS medication and make sure they are eating properly.

Such close monitoring — prompted by a lawsuit over poor health care for those with the AIDS virus — would be impossible on the outside, according to the department.

Ruth Naglich, the department’s associate commissioner of health services, said work on the outside could expose inmates with HIV to illnesses and spread the AIDS virus.

Some Alabama lawmakers and the American Civil Liberties Union have been pressing officials to remove the restriction.

“I think we’re dealing with a long custom here in Alabama. There’s fear here,” said Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “Certainly we have no reason to think anything the commissioner is doing is based on malice — far from it — but there needs to be a rational look at the facts.”

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