FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union today pointed to a Michigan class action lawsuit as proof positive of the need for improved prisoner health care in America, a need highlighted by a new federal study released this morning in San Antonio.
"The Michigan class action suit demonstrates how poor prisoner health care - in this case involving the rampant spread of Hepatitis C - can impact the general public as a whole," said Elizabeth Alexander, Director of the ACLU's National Prison Project. "Reforms need to be implemented, not just to ensure a baseline level of medical treatment for prisoners, but to protect us all from real health risks stemming from inadequate care in prisons."
The Michigan lawsuit, filed last week, charged state prison officials with allowing an infectious disease to reach epidemic proportions by failing to adequately test and treat inmates with Hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus that is in many cases fatal. A new federal study, released today in San Antonio at a conference convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, echoes these concerns and calls on departments of corrections across the country to meet national clinical guidelines-released last week by the CDC- for the treatment of prisoners.
The study released today, called The Health Status of Soon-To-Be-Released Inmates: A Report to Congress, was produced by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and sponsored by the National Institute of Justice. The report released today can be found on-line at: http://www.ncchc.org/pubs_stbr.html. The Coalition for Better Treatment - of which the ACLU is a part along with civil rights groups, corrections officials and medical practitioners - released a statement today in support of the study's recommendations, which can be found at /cpredirect/14693.
One party to the ACLU's class action lawsuit demonstrates the danger to the community posed by inadequate prison health care. Marva, a Western Michigan native whose last name is being omitted to protect her privacy, contracted Hepatitis C from her boyfriend, a former inmate. Prison officials diagnosed her boyfriend with the virus in 1998 but neglected to inform him until the summer of 2001. Marva, because of prison officials' negligence, was unable to take steps necessary to protect herself from infection and has now lost her job because of her new debilitating treatment regimen. Marva is a single mother of two young children.
According to the new federal report, nearly 330,000 imprisoned individuals tested positive for Hepatitis C in 1997 and approximately 1.4 million Hepatitis C infected individuals left prison or jail in 1996. And Hepatitis C is not the only threat from sub-standard prison health care; ex-inmates comprised 35 percent of the U.S. population infected with tuberculosis in 1996 and accounted for 17 percent of the AIDS infected population.
Without Congressional attention and added funding, the ACLU said, prison officials will continue to be overwhelmed by these health threats, which will in turn accelerate the public health danger to all Americans.