A settlement in a federal class action lawsuit announced by The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri on Aug. 21 ensures that people who are incarcerated in Missouri prisons will receive Hepatitis-C treatment and education.

The settlement was reached between MacArthur Justice Center, Wilkinson Walsh LLP, ACLU of Missouri and the Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC) and Corizon Health, the department’s medical provider.

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV) and is spread through contact with blood from an infected person. HCV can lead to life-threatening conditions, including cirrhosis and liver cancer, said to be widespread in Missouri prisons. Although the exact number of incarcerated people with HCV is unknown because of a lack of routine testing, it is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of those under the supervision, care, and custody of MDOC and Corizon are infected with HCV.

In the last decade, a new class of drugs known as direct-acting antiviral (DAA) medications was approved to treat HCV. However, these drugs are expensive and were routinely denied to incarcerated people in Missouri, leading to lifelong injuries and deaths. 

“This settlement will save countless lives,” said Amy Breihan, co-director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s Missouri office. “It means Missouri will go from treating less than 1% of its infected prison population, to eventually treating every incarcerated person with chronic Hepatitis C. The impact on the health of our incarcerated clients and the public overall will be immense.” 

The settlement agreement stipulates that over the next eight years, MDOC and Corizon will spend approximately $50 million to treat incarcerated people in Missouri with chronic HCV, beginning with the sickest individuals; MDOC and Corizon will monitor individuals at high risk for serious health conditions as a result of current or past HCV infection; MDOC and Corizon will provide educational materials regarding the risks of HCV, the benefits of testing, and their policies relating to treatment;

Corizon medical staff will receive HCV-related training; and MDOC and Corizon will provide quarterly reports to Plaintiffs’ counsel regarding the progress of treatment. 

“Missouri prison officials and their chosen provider have known there is a safe cure for thousands of individuals in their custody with Hepatitis C and could have prevented unnecessary pain and death by allowing treatment,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “This settlement is a step toward correcting the state’s failure to provide necessary medical care to persons in the state’s care and will help protect the public from the spread of this terrible illness by curing individuals before they return to the community.”

The federal class-action lawsuit was originally filed by the ACLU of Missouri and the MacArthur Justice Center in December of 2016. In July 2017, the case was certified as a class action consisting of thousands of incarcerated Missourians. In August 2019, the court held a four-day hearing on a motion for preliminary injunction.

“We got to this point by demonstrating in the courtroom that the science defendants relied on to justify their lack of treatment was indefensible,” said Betsy Henthorne, of Wilkinson Walsh. “From the week-long hearing on our motion for a preliminary injunction, through our depositions of senior MDOC and Corizon officials, we established a factual record of indifference that was as heartbreaking as it was compelling. We are grateful that those whose lives and health had been disregarded by MDOC and Corizon will get the treatment they deserve.”

The proposed class action settlement must be approved by the federal District Court following a fairness hearing, which the parties anticipate will be held sometime this fall.

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