HEPATITIS C

by Julian Heicklen

June 27, 2000

Hepatitis C is a highly contagious disease. It ultimately leads to death in about 80% of cases. In the California state prisons, the incidence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) among male inmates is 39%; among female inmates, 54%; in Texas, 29%; in Maryland, 40% of those entering. A knowledgeable inmate in the Pennsylvania prisons has informed me that the incidence of HCV among inmates is 40%. When I requested accurate information from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, I was informed that the information was not for public disclosure. Presumably the percentages are comparable in other state prisons and in federal prisons. Most of these inmates will not die in prison. They will be released to infect the rest of the population before they die.

I have seen court documents from 30 inmates at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Rockview. These stories are all the same, except for the names and dates. Each of them tested positive for HCV when they were tested by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) in the late 1980s or early 1990s. They were not informed of these positive results. They received no counseling, no treatment, no follow-up monitoring, no liver biopsies, and no hepatic diets.

In the late 1990s, they were all re-tested for HCV, probably as a result of lawsuits filed by two of them. They all tested positive and were informed of the positive results of the earlier blood tests. Still none of them receives treatment, follow-up monitoring, liver biopsies, or hepatic diets.

Some of these inmates report that they were released on parole after the first blood test, but before they were informed that they had HCV. They subsequently returned to prison for parole violations. At least two of them believe that they unknowingly infected family members and/or loved ones with HCV, because they were unaware that they were infected.

Another inmate, Larry Albury, died from an untreated liver condition on March 19, 1997.

Court documents tell of four other inmates at SCI Rockview who have hernias that cause them great pain and are not being corrected, because surgery is considered elective treatment.