Thousands of prisoners around the nation are slowly dying from hepatitis C, a wholly treatable disease, because corrections officials are doing everything possible to avoid caring for them, reports the Village Voice. New York is among the worst offenders, as by most estimates it boasts more inmates living with hep C than any other state. After years of advocates and inmates fruitlessly lobbying for change, a series of lawsuits, including a class action case pending in federal court, appears to have finally forced the state’s hand.
At least 14 percent of New York’s inmates are known to have hep C. Hep C is the number one reason for swapping out a liver; the waiting list for transplants is 17,000 and growing. The sooner you start treatment, the less likely you’ll need one. The state corrections department says it offers tests to all incoming prisoners whose profiles raise red flags. Even for those who get screened, learning you’ve got the disease is where, for most, the process ends. A Justice Department census said that as of 2000, only about 300 of the state’s estimated 10,000 hep C-positive inmates were being treated. Prison health advocates charge this dismal rate is no accident. Treating hep C is expensive. The multi-drug regimen can cost as much as $35,000 per patient. Corrections already spends almost $23 million a year on AIDS meds, nearly 40 percent of its pharmacy budget.