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Monday, March 25, 1996

NAACP calls for inquiry on prisoners with AIDS

The Commercial Appeal, March 25, 1996
By Terry Keeter

The Memphis Branch of the NAACP called Sunday for an investigation into the care and treatment of Shelby County inmates who are infected with the AIDS virus.

The organization, acting on a motion by Vasco Smith, also voted to look into the reasons a counselor was barred from the jail this month.

According to a March 12 memo from sheriff's Inspector Allan Smith to captains and lieutenants, longtime counselor Novella Smith Arnold is no longer allowed to visit the jail.

Vasco Smith called for the investigation into the treatment of inmates who are HIV-positive at the regular monthly NAACP meeting at Mt. Olive CME Cathedral. The action came after Johnnie Turner, vice president of the Memphis branch, said she thought racism was behind the treatment of such inmates in the jail.

Turner said allowing these inmates to be jailed with others can lead to the spread of the disease. She said when the inmates are exposed to the virus and then released, they carry it to their homes and families.

"The people housed in the jail look like us," Turner said. "And the ones who make the decisions don't."

The memo from the sheriff's inspector gave no reason for barring Arnold, the executive director of We Care Inc., the criminal justice ministry of Calvary Episcopal Church. But a sheriff's spokesman said last week that security had been increased since a March 5 escape by two inmates.

Sheriff's Department spokesman Kay Black said it is the "sheriff's prerogative who can come into the jail and who can't" and that Sheriff A. C. Gilless did not want to discuss the matter further.

"He's just restricting access. That's all it is, period."

Arnold said she thought she was banned because of comments she made about the spread of AIDS among inmates during a March 9 program at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church.

State Rep. Kathryn Bowers (D-Memphis), moderator of the program, held a press conference earlier to call attention to the ban. Arnold had been joined on the program at the church by three people infected with the AIDS virus, including a former inmate who discussed sex among inmates, including rapes.

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Edition: Final; Section: Metro; Page: B1
Copyright (c) 1996 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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