On July 26, 2016, ACLU-TN, along with Disability Rights Tennessee, filed a federal class action lawsuit challenging the Tennessee Department of Corrections’ systematic denial of treatment to inmates infected with Hepatitis C (HCV).
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of an inmate at the Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville and an inmate at the Hardeman County Correctional Facility in Whiteville, who were both diagnosed with HCV years ago while incarcerated at Tennessee Department of Corrections facilities. The complaint alleges that the Department of Corrections consistently and systematically denied the plaintiffs treatment for their disease in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
In March 2016, the Tennessee Department of Corrections placed the number of its inmates testing positive for HCV at 3,487, or nearly one in six prisoners, while conceding that this number 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.
The current guidance for treatment of HCV infection, jointly set by the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease and the Infectious Disease Society of America, definitively establishes a 12-week treatment regimen with direct-acting anti-viral drugs as the medically accepted standard of care. This treatment results in curing the disease in at least 90 percent of cases. In its written protocol on managing chronic HCV, the Tennessee Department of Corrections acknowledges this treatment guidance and the recommendation that all individuals testing positive for HCV receive such treatment. However, as of May 2016, only eight of the 3,487 inmates identified as infected were receiving treatment with direct-acting anti-viral drugs.
The lawsuit alleges that the Department of Corrections has “intentionally omitted treatment from Protocol and other policies in order to justify their routine denial of treatment with these life-saving medications.” This deliberate indifference, the lawsuit contends, has led to inmates’ acute physical suffering and, if continued, will lead to irreversible physical harm, including eventual death.
The plaintiffs are seeking to have the court 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.
ACLU-TN COOPERATING ATTORNEY:
Karla M. Campbell, Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, PLLC
Elizabeth S. Logsdon, Disability Rights Tennessee Plaintiffs: Charles Graham aka Charles Stevenson and Russell L. Davis (class representatives)
Tony C. Parker, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Corrections; Dr. Marina Cadreche, Assistant Commissioner of Rehabilitative Services, Tennessee Department of Corrections; and Dr. Kenneth Williams, Medical Director, Tennessee Department of Corrections