Should all inmates at Utah State Prison be required to undergo testing for AIDS? And should those testing positive for the deadly disease be segregated into a separate area at the Point of the Mountain facility?
Those questions will come before the next session of the Utah Legislature in the form of a bill sponsored by Sen. Winn L. Richards, D-Ogden, and approved a few days ago by the Legislature's interim health committee.The purposes of the legislation certainly make sense. One objective is to protect non-infected prisoners from the infected population at the prison. Another is to protect the state from law suits that might arise from individuals who contract the disease while incarcerated at the prison.
A voluntary testing program involving 102 inmates turned up seven AIDS cases - which should end any doubt that a problem exists. Two inmates have since died and one other was released to a nursing home. The treatment of one case used more than 12 percent of the prison's entire medical budget before he died.
Some critics object that segregating those inmates who test positive for the HIV complex is discriminatory and will stigmatize those so separated from the rest of the prison population. They argue that this stigma could follow the prisoner into private life once the inmate is released, creating an additional burden. American Civil Liberties Union representatives say the bill should be delayed until courts rule on a similar law in Alabama now being tested in the courts. They also say a more compelling case can be made for segregating "predator" inmates, those who use violence towards others and create control problems. They say solving that problem would generally eliminate the threat of AIDS spread among inmates.
Previous AIDS legislation was vetoed by the governor because of onerous amendments that created more problems than were solved. Let's not nit-pick this measure to death, too. If Utah must err in dealing with AIDS at the prison or elsewhere, it should err on the side of too much caution rather than too little.