State prisons fail to offer cure to 144,000 inmates with hepatitis C

Although hepatitis C can be cured with proper treatment, new evidence reveals that U.S. prisons are filled with inmates who are not being offered the necessary drugs. The finding comes from a survey conducted as part of a master's project at Columbia University's graduate school of journalism.

Although hepatitis C can be cured with proper treatment, new evidence reveals that U.S. prisons are filled with inmates who are not being offered the necessary drugs. The finding comes from a survey conducted as part of a master's project at Columbia University's graduate school of journalism. Based on responses from correctional departments in 49 states, 144,000 or more prisoners—or approximately 97% of all inmates with hepatitis C—are not receiving the care they need to beat the condition. Ironically, this population is at greater risk due to shared personal items and especially—with a high number of convicts serving time on drug charges—needles. They also are at high risk of spreading the virus, if untreated, if and when they rejoin society. While new interventions have boosted the cure rate to more than 95%, many correctional departments say the exorbitant cost—as much as $90,000 per patient—is the primary deterrent. Prisoners and their advocates, however, consider withholding of treatment to be cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of their Eighth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. As a results, lawsuits challenging the practice have been lodged in at least 9 states.