Incarceration Nation

Hepatitis C Prison Wars Widen

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

When our recent hepatitis C case was decided (January 3, 2017), we thought that the state, known widely for its repressive penal attitudes and its cold resistance to the principle that prisoners were, after all, human beings entitled to the rights, privileges and protections inherent in human personality, would be deeply impacted.

We were correct, in a sense, for the case, Abu-Jamal v. Wetzel, did indeed change the legal rules of the game—at least on paper. In practice, however, the fiendish “protocol,” first announced in the December 2015 hearings in our case, which stubbornly demands that people who are infected with the hepatitis C virus must be at death’s door before even being considered for possible treatment, remains to this day, to be Department Of Correction’s practice and procedure, despite being found unconstitutional—twice!

But beyond Pennsylvania’s archaic frontiers, the case is making ripples in the lives of thousands of other prisoners who are suffering the ravages of Hep C (HCV), like in the state of Missouri, where prisoners Michael Postawko, Christopher Baker and Michael Jamerson filed a class action against the Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC), claiming “inadequate medical care” for their HCV viral infections, and the refusal of MDOC and Corizon, LLC, (MDOC’s healthcare provider), to treat plaintiffs with the direct-acting anti-viral known to resolve and actually cure HCV in a timely manner.

When MDOC officials filed their motions to dismiss the case, the U.S. District Court in Missouri’s Western District, granted their motion in part, but also denied a huge chunk of their motion, finding that the prisoner-plaintiffs had indeed shown a “serious medical need” (HCV), that MDOC defendants showed “deliberate indifference” to their medical needs, and that the plaintiffs had shown a “reasonable probability of success” on the merits of their complaint. To do this, the court used the U.S. Supreme Court’s precedent on medical issues: Estelle, v. Gamble (1976)—and the recent Abu-Jamal decision of January 2017! Because of that medical precedent, the lives of thousands of men and women in Missouri prisons just got better, and their lives were extended and perhaps saved.

We have little doubt that the medical and corporate interests denying medical treatment here and there will continue to drag their feet and deny, deny, deny relief, but a dam has burst, and the dike has sprung, and HCV is under serious attack.

The HCV prison wars have begun—and we are winning!

Prison Radio, July 11, 2017