Inmates denied right to life-saving care, says Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center and ACLU

The Missouri Department of Corrections and its healthcare provider are intentionally defying medical standards in refusing to adequately treat the thousands of inmates with hepatitis C.

The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center (MJC) at St. Louis and the ACLU of Missouri jointly filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of Missourians who are asking for their constitutional and statutory rights to life-saving treatment while in prison.

“We are pleased and proud to be taking on this important life and death legal issue with our partners at ACLU,” said MJC Director Mae Quinn.

MJC Staff Attorney Amy Breihan notes,“The Missouri Department of Corrections is taking a short-sighted view of a public health crisis. Despite the fact that there are several effective drugs on the market, the Department of Corrections denies medical care to the thousands in its custody.” In January 2015, the Missouri Department of Corrections reported that it was treating 0.11 percent of hepatitis C-positive inmates under its supervision, or 5 out of 4,736 inmates.

“Prison officials are torturing hundreds of inmates—sometimes to death—by withholding a cure to an often fatal disease,” said ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert. “This failure to respect human life and dignity not only violates the Constitution, but also sharply increases the cost of treatment the state must pay when their condition worsens, as well as for the other inmates who will contract hepatitis C because officials have chosen to needlessly expose them to an untreated, highly infectious disease.”

At least 10 to 15 percent of the population under the supervision, care, and custody of the Missouri Department of Corrections is infected with hepatitis C. The exact number of hepatitis C-positive inmates is unknown because of lack of routine testing.

The current guidance for treatment of hepatitis C, jointly set by the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease and the Infectious Disease Society of America, definitively establishes a 12-week treatment regimen with direct-acting, anti-viral drugs as the medically accepted standard of care. This treatment results in curing the disease in at least 90 percent of cases.

At a time when the medical treatments have become more effective in treating hepatitis C, the Missouri Department of Corrections has become even more willfully indifferent by changing its procedures to focus on the cost of the care, instead of current medical standards. 

Each day without treatment increases a person’s likelihood of developing chronic liver disease, fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver cancer, painful complications, death from liver failure, and the risk of transmitting hepatitis C to others.

The hepatitis C virus kills more people in the U.S. than HIV and dozens of other infectious diseases combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The suit was filed in the U.S. Western District of Missouri.