District of Columbia inmates exposed to the AIDS virus no longer will be isolated, except for 15 inmates who were segregated months ago for their own safety, D.C. corrections chief James Palmer said yesterday.

Palmer said his department's policy on AIDS, issued April 1, allows inmates who have been exposed to the AIDS virus and those with AIDS-related complex, or ARC, to be part of the general population.

In a wide-ranging discussion about the problem of AIDS in D.C. correctional facilities, Palmer and Dr. Francis Smith, director of health services for the D.C. Department of Corrections, said at least eight inmates have died of AIDS in the last two years.

"It may well be higher," said Smith, who noted that several inmates with ARC who died at D.C. General Hospital did not have AIDS listed on their death certificates. District health officials have said that doctors often fail to list AIDS on death certificates because of the many complicating illnesses that often are present or because families pressure the doctors to omit the designation.

The corrections officials also said they routinely ask the Parole Board to grant early release to inmates found to have been exposed to the AIDS virus.

"We're requesting early outs," said Palmer. But Smith noted that the department was having little success in its requests, saying that the Parole Board "is treating them like any other inmate."

Smith said there currently are 21 inmates with exposure to the virus or ARC in the general population at Lorton Reformatory and three inmates with ARC and symptoms of AIDS in Lorton's infirmary.

At the D.C. Jail, there are 15 inmates with AIDS exposure or ARC in the general population and there is one inmate with AIDS symptoms in the jail's infirmary, Smith said.

Smith said that he tried in February to persuade federal officials to house 26 D.C. inmates with AIDS exposure, but that federal officials refused because they expected to need the space for their own inmates with AIDS exposure.

As a result, the 26 inmates were kept in the Lorton infirmary because D.C. corrections officials had not yet learned that medical authorities had concluded there was no need to segregate them. Several of the inmates were released to halfway houses, and 15 were taken by bus last month to protective custody in the D.C. Jail.

Palmer said that all 3,000 corrections employes and 6,500 inmates eventually will receive a training session on AIDS. The department began instructing guards in February at its training academy, he said, and information on AIDS is given routinely to all inmates.

"The tensions seem to be down a little about AIDS," said Smith. "They're not talking about it as much and they're reading the material we're handing out. People are a lot less concerned that they're going to catch it somehow."

When inmates were first tested for exposure to the AIDS virus last fall, some of those testing positive received threats, Smith said. It is this group of inmates who remain in protective custody, he said.