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UCLA Williams Project addresses HIV, AIDS in jails

By David Zisser

Oct. 1, 2002 9:00 p.m.

A group of panelists discussed how correctional facilities
respond to sexual activity, HIV and the issues faced by people
after incarceration who have HIV or AIDS, Monday, at the UCLA
School of Law.

The panel was sponsored by the Williams Project, a UCLA think
tank dedicated to the field of sexual orientation law and public
policy, and included L.A. County sheriff’s deputies, a
doctor, a case manager at a treatment center, a former inmate
living with HIV, and a lawyer who has worked with the American
Civil Liberties Union.

Each of the panelists made individual presentations about their
roles and experience with the issue of sex and HIV in correctional

One of the panelists, Mary Sylla, a former ACLU lawyer and the
founder and director of CorrectHELP, a group devoted to the rights
of inmates living with HIV or AIDS, helped the L.A. County Jail
start the largest condom distribution program of its kind last

Even though sex is illegal in correctional facilities, the
reality is “inmates do have sex in prison,” said UCLA
Law Professor Sharon Dolovich, who moderated the panel

CorrectHELP is concerned with maintaining equal rights for
inmates with HIV or AIDS, including equal access to programs in
prison and access to proper medication and medical care.

Ensuring proper medical care of inmates with HIV and AIDS is
important in order to protect the community at large, said William
King, a doctor and lawyer who studied the effectiveness of the
CorrectHELP program. Specifically, when HIV patients miss
medication dosages, they risk building a resistance to the

Another panelist experienced the issue firsthand. Ronnie Snyder
is a former inmate living with HIV. He was convicted of
embezzlement and sentenced to do restitution, a standard sentence
for his type of crime. He said because of his HIV status and the
discrimination that comes along with being HIV positive, he was
denied restitution and instead forced to serve 19 months in

Most of his time was spent at Del Norte Prison, the only prison
in California with a segregated unit for HIV positive inmates.
Inmates in the segregated unit are denied access to almost all the
programs available to the rest of the inmates at the prison.

Snyder said sex was common both among inmates, and between
inmates and guards, who traded oral sex for small privileges, such
as a few cigarettes.

Even though all the inmates knew who was HIV positive because
they carried bags containing 30-day supplies of medication, sex
with those inmates occurred regularly, Snyder said.

In L.A. County, there are separate units for gay inmates in

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies Bart Lanni and Randy Bell,
who were also on the panel, helped start a classification system in
1982 to protect gay inmates, who panelists said are more vulnerable
to harassment and rape in jail.

The classification system is used to make certain an inmate who
claims he is gay is in fact gay, since gang members who do not want
to deal with rival gang members in the normal jail unit sometimes
lie about their sexual orientation in order to be placed in the
“K-11″ unit, or the gay unit.

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David Zisser
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