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Rhode Island adopts law making it felony to throw bodily fluids

August 20, 1997

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ Inmates on the East Coast refer to it as ``serving″ a prison guard, while in the West it’s called ``gassing.″

Guards know it simply as being splashed or smeared with urine or feces.

``It’s a badge of honor to serve an officer,″ said Richard Loud, president of the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers. ``When an officer gets served, the other inmates all cheer. They think it’s a big joke.″

Rhode Island is among the states that have adopted laws to crack down on the activity. A bill signed July 1 by Gov. Lincoln Almond makes throwing bodily fluids or wastes a felony punishable by up to five more years behind bars and a $5,000 fine.

New York adopted a similar law last year, although, unlike the one in Rhode Island, it didn’t include saliva.

``I think Rhode Island probably has one of the best laws in the country,″ said Stephen Chand, director of federal affairs for the Law Enforcement Alliance of America.

Rep. Gerald Solomon, R-N.Y., has sponsored federal legislation requiring that inmates be tested for the AIDS virus if their bodily fluid or waste touches a guard.

Two such assaults occur a month at Rhode Island’s state prison, Loud said Tuesday.

Some believe the punishment is excessive.

``We think it is a harsh reaction to a non-issue,″ said Steve Brown, executive director of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. ``I think in most cases this will involve spitting. Inmates shouldn’t be spitting on guards, but certainly it doesn’t merit a five-year prison sentence.″

The act has been taking place for years in prisons, but such bills are gaining strength because of the fear of AIDS.

``The scientific and medical evidence is abundantly clear that it is virtually impossible to get infected with the HIV virus through that sort of conduct,″ Brown said.

Prisons already can punish inmates by placing them in solitary confinement or revoking other privileges, or can try them for misdemeanor assault, Brown said. But authorities have had trouble prosecuting inmates under the misdemeanor assault law, said Rep. Joseph McNamara, D-Warwick, the bill’s sponsor.

``It’s difficult to prove intent to do harm,″ McNamara said.

However, he said, the fact that different slang terms exist for the act in various parts of the country show how much a part of prison culture it is.

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