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Akron Univ. School of Law

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Suit Alleges Inadequate Care of Hepatitis C Outbreak in California Prisons

The Los Angeles Times reports on a federal class-action lawsuit alleging that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is wrongly excluding thousands of inmates from proper diagnostic testing and treatment.  Up to 40% of the 171,000 inmates in state prisons may be infected by hepatitis C.  Patrick McGreevy writes,

Prison_pic_2California prison officials are failing to adequately treat an outbreak of hepatitis C that has infected thousands of inmates, a federal class-action lawsuit alleged Tuesday [July 8, 2008].

The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles on behalf of inmates including Kevin Jackson, who is at the California State Prison at Solano and alleges that he has not received proper treatment since being diagnosed with the disease in August 2007.

Up to 40% of the 171,000 inmates in state prisons may be infected with hepatitis C, said Shawn Khorrami, an attorney for Jackson.

The lawsuit alleges that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is wrongly excluding thousands of inmates from liver biopsies and antiviral treatments and allowing their diseases to progress to more advanced stages of liver damage. Khorrami said the lack of proper diagnostic testing and treatment further spreads the disease among inmates.

"The Department of Corrections is playing judge, jury and executioner and doling out a punishment that no court would allow," Khorrami said. "This is unacceptable, inhumane and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment."

The lawsuit against Robin Dezember, director of the Division of Correctional Health Care Services for the prison system, is the latest in a string of legal challenges alleging that officials have failed to provide adequate medical care to inmates.

In response to previous litigation alleging substandard treatment of chronic diseases, the federal court appointed J. Clark Kelso as a receiver authorized to take control of and overhaul healthcare in the prison system. Kelso has been pressuring the state to spend billions of additional dollars to upgrade medical treatment for inmates, including the addition of 10,000 hospital beds in the prison system.

As a result, the receiver believes that the lawsuit is redundant, spokesman Luis Patino said.

"This lawsuit is seriously flawed," he said. "I can't imagine how many times the same class is going to sue the same agency for the same reason."

Kelso is aware of the problem with treating hepatitis C and "it is already being fixed," Patino said.

However, Khorrami said the receiver has not made enough progress in addressing the epidemic, which has the potential to affect the general public as infected prisoners are released into their communities.

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