HEPATITIS C VIRUS IN PRISONS

By Julian Heicklen

Presented to Redirect 2000 at Penn State University

July 8, 2000

We are engaged in a struggle for the soul of America. We have turned our prisons into vehicles for spreading infectious disease. Hepatitis C is spreading throughout our prisons. It is a highly contagious disease. It ultimately leads to death in about 80% of cases.

The incidence of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) in the free population is about 1.3%. In the California state prisons, the incidence of 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 (DOC), I was informed that the information was not for public disclosure. I have sued the DOC under the Freedom of Information Act to get that information.

Presumably other state and federal prisons have an incidence of HCV of about 40%. 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 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.

Most of the inmates that enter prison do not have HCV. This means that those leaving prison have a much higher incidence than the average (probably about 70%) of HCV. In 1996, the number of inmates leaving state and federal prison was 232,000; about 94% were males. From 1986 to 1996, the prison population grew at an average rate of 8.4% per year. If this rate is maintained, the number of prisoners leaving our state and federal prisoners between 2000 and 2030 will be 24 million. About 17 million will be infected with HCV.

The 17 million figure does not include those released from county prisons or jails. About ten times as many people will be released from county prisons and jails as from state and federal prisons. The incidence of HCV in the county facilities is not known, but some of these inmates must also have the virus.

In March 2000, California passed a law that will treat 14­17 year old offenders as adult criminals. They will be sent to adult facilities where all of them will be raped several times, which is a main route of transmitting the virus. All of them will leave prison infected with HCV when they will be in their sexually active years.

Currently there are an estimated four million people with HCV in the United States. At the present rate of growth, in thirty years that number will increase by at least a factor of ten. We have embarked on a peculiar public health policy. We are going to infect tens of millions of ourselves with HCV. About 85% of those will develop chronic HCV infection, which leads to cirrhosis of the liver in 10­30 years. They will die of liver failure or hepatocellular carcinoma. No other political party understands this or wishes to stop it. Only the Libertarian Party advocates prison reform and a reduction in prison populations.

It is time to start worrying about physical survival. I am the Libertarian Party candidate for Attorney General of Pennsylvania. By supporting my candidacy for Attorney General, you will not be doing me a favor. I am 68 years old. I will die of some other cause before I die of hepatitis C. You will be doing yourself a favor. It is you who are going to be infected by hepatitis C, not me. The Libertarian party is not your best hope for survival. It is your only hope.