ACLU Fights Virginia Law Barring Prisoners from Obtaining Medical Information

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
January 19, 2006 12:00 am

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Prisoner Suffering from Hepatitis C Sues to Get Treatment Protocol

BIG STONE GAP, VA — With help from the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Rutherford Institute, a prisoner suffering from Hepatitis C today filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn a Virginia statute that prevents him from obtaining a copy of the Department of Corrections policy describing how it is supposed to treat the disease.

Under a law passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 1997, no person incarcerated in a state, local or federal correctional facility may use the Virginia Freedom of Information Act to obtain government documents.

“When it was introduced, we told legislators that this was a cruel, mean-spirited piece of legislation that had the potential to cut prisoners off from information essential to their survival behind bars,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “With this case we can see exactly how that can happen.”

The plaintiff, Joseph M. Giarratano, is an inmate at Red Onion State Prison. He tried unsuccessfully to obtain copies of the department’s Hepatitis C protocol to determine if he was receiving the treatment to which he is entitled. The protocol documents are available to any non-incarcerated person under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

“Here’s a man suffering from a potentially fatal disease that he contracted while in prison, and he can’t find out if the treatment he is receiving even complies with prison policy,” added Willis. “And if he can’t find out if he is getting the treatment he is entitled to, he has no basis for challenging inadequate treatment in court.”

The complaint was filed today in U.S. District Court in Big Stone Gap. In legal papers, the ACLU and the Rutherford Institute argue that the Virginia law violates the right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment and right to access the courts guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The lawyers for Giarratano are: Stephen D. Rosenfield, a cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Virginia; Rebecca K. Glenberg, Legal Director of the ACLU of Virginia; and R. Frazier Solsberry, a participating attorney for the Rutherford Institute.

The complaint is available online at:

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