Less than one-half of one percent of Missouri inmates with a known hep C infection are treated

ST. LOUIS – Today, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s certification of a class-action lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Corrections and its private medical provider, Corizon LLC, for their inhumane, unconstitutional treatment of inmates with chronic hepatitis C.

“Class certification allows us to force the prison system to abandon its medically indefensible policy of withholding a cure to a serious, sometimes fatal disease,” said Tony Rothert, legal director, ACLU of Missouri. “Prison officials are causing thousands of inmates unnecessary suffering—and sometimes death.”

More than 4,500 inmates under the supervision, care, and custody of the Missouri Department of Corrections are infected with hepatitis C, the infectious disease that kills the most Americans annually. The exact number of infected inmates is unknown because of lack of routine testing.

Drugs that cure well over 90 percent of hepatitis C infections have been on the market since 2014. Yet, Corizon and the prison system have provided those drugs to less than one-half of one percent of inmates in their custody known to have hepatitis C.

In 2016, the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center (MJC) of Missouri and the ACLU of Missouri jointly filed a lawsuit on behalf of incarcerated Missourians asking for their constitutional and statutory rights to be assessed for life-saving treatment while in prison.

“Not only has the government displayed gross lack of respect for human life and dignity of the people in its care, its actions also sharply increase the cost of treatment the state must pay when their condition worsens,” said Amy Breihan, Director of the MJC’s Missouri office. “They’ve chosen to create a public health emergency among the incarcerated.”

At a time when most cases of hepatitis C have become curable, the Missouri Department of Corrections and Corizon have become even more willfully indifferent to the suffering of the inmates in their care by changing their procedures to ignore current medical standards. As a highly infectious disease, hepatitis C spreads easily in incarcerated populations.

Each day without hep C treatment increases a person’s likelihood of developing chronic liver disease, fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver cancer, painful complications and death from liver failure.

Read the decision.