Ruling: DOC violating rights of inmates with hepatitis

The Indiana Department of Correction’s failure to provide inmates with recommended hepatitis C treatment violates their constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment, a federal judge ruled Thursday in a groundbreaking order.

Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson in the Southern District of Indiana granted summary judgment to a class of Indiana prisoners who sued the DOC over its policies regarding treatment of inmates infected with the hepatitis C virus. The suit alleges DOC is more concerned about saving money than providing potentially life-saving treatment.

“The Court concludes that the undisputed evidence in this case establishes that Plaintiffs’ need for medical treatment is toward the high end of the range (of medical need), and Defendants’ deliberate refusal to provide that treatment constitutes a violation of the Eighth Amendment,” Magnus-Stinson wrote in the conclusion of a 44-page order.

Magnus-Stinson ordered the parties to develop a schedule for the remedy phase of the case. A DOC spokesman said the department was reviewing the order and had no immediate comment.

Indianapolis attorney Mark W. Sniderman and Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law professor Robert A. Katz represent the DOC plaintiffs. “We are reviewing the court’s order carefully. Our clients hope to have access to this life-saving treatment soon,” they said in a statement.

The ruling could explode the amount Indiana spends to treat thousands of inmates with HCV, but the treatment also could cure the disease for those behind bars.

The DOC says in court records it wants to limit medication costs to treat HCV to $1.5 million per year. However, the cost of recommended treatment with revolutionary direct-acting antiviral medication is $25,000 per inmate, according to the order. With 3,476 inmates HCV-positive and subject to the order, the cost of treatment equates to $86.9 million.

However, Magnus-Stinson wrote, unless treatment with DAAs is contraindicated, there is no rational justification for not treating inmates with HCV with the medications, which can cure the disease in a few weeks.   

Magnus-Stinson’s order also modified the class in this case to include “all current and future prisoners in IDOC custody who have been diagnosed, or will be diagnosed, with chronic HCV, and for whom treatment with DAA medication is not medically contraindicated

The case is Michael Ray Stafford, et al. v. Robert E. Carter, Jr., et al., 1:17-cv-00289.

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