July 15, 2019
CONTACT: Lindsay Kee, ACLU-TN communications director, 615-320-7142
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tomorrow a class action lawsuit challenging the Tennessee Department of Corrections’ inadequate Hepatitis C (HCV) treatment protocol goes to trial. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, Disability Rights Tennessee and Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, PLLC on behalf of inmates who were denied adequate medical care after being diagnosed with HCV.
“Our position in this trial is straightforward: Rationing medical care is unconstitutional,” said co-counsel Karla Campbell of Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, PLLC.
The current medically accepted standard of care for HCV treatment involves a 12-week treatment regimen with direct-acting anti-viral drugs, which in at least 90% of cases results in curing the disease.
As of March 2017, TDOC estimated that 3,487 prisoners were infected with HCV, while conceding that this number that is likely far below true infection rates due to a lack of routine testing and inaccurate testing. The department further acknowledged that nearly half of the inmates tested for Hepatitis C in 2015 were positive, which puts the likely number of infected inmates closer to 10,000. At the time this lawsuit was filed, only eight of these inmates were receiving the recommended course of treatment. Lack of proper treatment for HCV results in chronic physical and mental pain and irreparable liver damage that eventually leads to death.
In April 2019, during the course of the lawsuit, state legislators allocated nearly $25 million in state funds to combat Hepatitis C in state prisons at Governor Lee’s request.
“By not providing the necessary, medically recommended treatment for HCV, TDOC has systematically denied thousands of inmates their constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by forcing them to needlessly suffer due to their illness,” said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN legal director. “This trial is an opportunity to protect the health, safety and human dignity of both currently incarcerated individuals and those incarcerated in TDOC facilities in the future.”
The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the Tennessee Department of Corrections’ policies and practices with regards to HCV violate the Eighth Amendment and to require the department to develop and implement a new plan for diagnosis and treatment that complies with the community standard of care and expert medical advice.
“Inmates in TDOC prisons are totally dependent on the facility’s medical staff to provide medical treatment to them,” said Disability Rights Tennessee attorney Stacie Price. “Inmates can ask for treatment, but they are reliant on TDOC to provide it. With thousands of inmates left untreated, the current policies and practices of TDOC regarding HCV diagnosis and treatment are clearly inadequate under the law.”
The lawsuit was filed on July 25, 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.
Further information on this litigation and a copy of the complaint can be found at: https://www.aclu-tn.org/graham-et-al-v-parker-et-al/.