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Class Action Certified Against Missouri Department of Corrections for Denial of Care for Detainees with Chronic Hepatitis C

Prison and its Medical Provider Ignore Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Standards of Care

St. Louis – A federal judge has certified that a lawsuit challenging the Missouri Department of Corrections’ (MDOC) systematic denial of medication to inmates with chronic Hepatitis C (HCV) can move forward as a class action.

The lawsuit was filed by the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center – St. Louis (MJC-STL) and the ACLU of Missouri (ACLU) on behalf of three individual Plaintiffs incarcerated at the MDOC, all of whom have been consistently refused adequate treatment for years.

“We are grateful to the court of allowing us to move forward with our suit. The designation of the class is an important step in forcing the Missouri Department of Corrections to treat inmates with chronic Hepatitis C according to the universally recognized medical standards,” said Tony Rothert, Legal Director for ACLU. “That inmates are forced to beg for life-saving treatment, only to be repeatedly refused, is not only unconstitutional, it’s inhumane.”

The groups are sharing word of this decision on World Hepatitis Day (July 28), an internationally recognized day focused on raising awareness to the dangers of hepatitis, particularly without proper treatment.  Nationally, hepatitis causes more deaths than any other infectious disease, including HIV and tuberculosis combined.   

At least 10 to 15 percent of the population under the supervision, care, and custody of the Missouri Department of Corrections is infected with HCV. Although the exact number of hepatitis C-positive inmates is unknown due to a lack of routine testing, recent data showed that only 0.11 percent of inmates with HCV are actually receiving treatment. Even by a conservative estimate, there are likely at least 2,000 members of the class.

“With their shameful disregard of this potentially deadly disease, particularly in light of advancements in treatment over the last several years, the Missouri Department of Corrections has demonstrated indifference to the lives of those in their custody,” said Amy Breihan, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center. “They are basing treatment decisions on cost, rather than need, and inmates are paying the price.”

The current treatment of Hepatitis C, jointly set by the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease and the Infectious Disease Society of America and recognized by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), definitively establishes treatment regimen with direct-acting, anti-viral drugs (DAA drugs) as the standard of care. This treatment works faster, has fewer side effects and is more effective.

ACLU attorney Gillian Wilcox further explained, “Not only are inmates not receiving this universally accepted standard of care, but MDOC and Corizon, its medical provider, are relying on inaccurate, arbitrary methods to determine who even warrants care. This includes outdated methods of testing for fibrosis and cirrhosis and requiring advanced liver damage to qualify for treatment.”

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the Missouri Department of Corrections policy of withholding adequate medical care violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments and as well as Title II of the American Disabilities Act. The suit asks for an injunction forcing MDOC to formulate and implement an HCV treatment policy, in accordance with recognized best practices, to provide accurate diagnosis and counseling and to prohibit the denial of direct-acting antiviral drugs for non-medical reasons.

The lawsuit was filed December 15, 2016 in the Western District of Missouri Central Division.  A copy of the lawsuit can be found here.

A copy of the Court’s decision certification the class, that will likely include thousands of Missouri inmates, can be found here.

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The ACLU of Missouri preserves and expands the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Missourians as guaranteed in the Missouri and U.S. Constitutions, with a focus on the Bill of Rights, the first ten Amendments.

The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center (MJC) at St. Louis is a non-profit, public interest law firm that advocates criminal and juvenile justice system reforms. MJC was founded in 1985 by the family of J. Roderick MacArthur to advocate for human rights and social justice through litigation. The St. Louis office opened in the summer of 2016.  MJC also has offices in Chicago (at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law), New Orleans, at the University of Mississippi Law School, and in Washington, D.C. 

Keywords: ACLU of Missouri, Class Action, Hepatitis, Mae C. Quinn, Missouri Department of Corrections, Prisoners Rights

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