Tennessee inmates infected with hepatitis C filed a federal lawsuit against state prison officials, asking the court to force the state to start treating all inmates who have the potentially deadly disease, The Tennessean reports. The lawsuit, filed by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocates, says the Tennessee Department of Correction officials knowingly denied inmates care for their hepatitis C, also known as HCV, constituting cruel and unusual punishment. It alleges the department is denying care because the best available medication is too expensive. The state’s “written policies for HCV diagnosis, assessment and treatment utilize outdated standards of care and normalize the practice of refusing treatment for unjust and medically unsound reasons,” the lawsuit charges..
“Incarcerating people under conditions that erode their health, safety and human dignity amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, which not only has devastating long-term effects for those individuals, but which undermines the purported purpose of a rehabilitative criminal justice system,” said ACLU legal director Thomas Castelli. If class-action status is granted, every inmate infected with hepatitis C also could be eligible to receive treatment in the future. A spokesman said the state “is providing adequate medical care as determined by medical protocol.” A Tennessean investigation found that, as of March, nearly 3,500 inmates had hepatitis C while only eight were receiving treatment that could cure them. As of the end of June, the enormous disparity between those infected and those receiving treatment remains: There are 2,935 inmates with hepatitis C, while four are receiving the newest treatment.