Missouri Department of Corrections Required to Provide Lifesaving Hepatitis C Treatment to Thousands Behind Bars

ACLU of Missouri, Macarthur Justice Center, and Wilkinson Walsh LLP reach landmark settlement requiring Hepatitis C treatment and education.

St. Louis: The MacArthur Justice Center, Wilkinson Walsh LLP, and ACLU of Missouri have reached a settlement with the Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC) and Corizon Health, the department’s medical provider, ensuring that people incarcerated in Missouri’s prisons receive vital Hepatitis C treatment and education.

Hepatitis C (HCV), which can lead to life-threating conditions including cirrhosis and liver-cancer, is widespread in Missouri prisons.  Although the exact number of incarcerated people with HCV is unknown because of a lack of routine testing, an estimated 10 to 15 percent of those under the supervision, care, and custody of MDOC and Corizon are infected with HCV.

 During the last decade, a new class of drugs known as direct acting antiviral (DAA) medications was approved to treat HCV.  However, these drugs are expensive and were routinely denied to incarcerated people in Missouri, leading to lifelong injuries and deaths.  As a result of the settlement agreement, however:

  •  Over the next eight years, MDOC and Corizon will spend approximately $50 million to treat incarcerated people in Missouri with chronic HCV, beginning with the sickest individuals. 
  • MDOC and Corizon will monitor individuals at high risk for serious health conditions as a result of current or past HCV infection.
  • MDOC and Corizon will provide educational materials regarding the risks of HCV, the benefits of testing, and their policies relating to treatment.
  • Corizon medical staff will receive HCV-related training.
  • MDOC and Corizon will provide quarterly reports to Plaintiffs’ counsel regarding the progress of treatment.

 

“This settlement will save countless lives,” said Amy Breihan, Co-Director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s Missouri office. “It means Missouri will go from treating less than 1% of its infected prison population, to eventually treating every incarcerated person with chronic Hepatitis C. The impact on the health of our incarcerated clients and the public overall will be immense.”

“Missouri prison officials and their chosen provider have known there is a safe cure for thousands of individuals in their custody with Hepatitis C and could have prevented unnecessary pain and death by allowing treatment,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “This settlement is a step toward correcting the state’s failure to provide necessary medical care to persons in the state’s care and will help protect the public from the spread of this terrible illness by curing individuals before they return to the community.”

“We got to this point by demonstrating in the courtroom that the science defendants relied on to justify their lack of treatment was indefensible,” said Betsy Henthorne of Wilkinson Walsh.  “From the week-long hearing on our motion for a preliminary injunction, through our depositions of senior MDOC and Corizon officials, we established a factual record of indifference that was as heartbreaking as it was compelling.  We are grateful that those whose lives and health had been disregarded by MDOC and Corizon will get the treatment they deserve.”

The federal class action lawsuit was originally filed by the ACLU of Missouri and the MacArthur Justice Center  in December of 2016. In July 2017, the case was certified as a class action consisting of thousands of incarcerated Missourians.  In August 2019, the court held a four-day hearing on a motion for preliminary injunction.

The proposed class action settlement must be approved by the federal District Court following a fairness hearing, which the parties anticipate will be held sometime this fall.