Facing a class action lawsuit, the Connecticut Department of Correction will begin testing and treating inmates for the hepatitis C virus, which can be spread by unprotected sex, intravenous drug use and tattooing, and thrives in a prison climate, the Hartford Courant reports. Lawmakers were concerned about the plodding pace of the prison system’s response to the growing recognition across the U.S. that 30 percent or more of the prison population may have the virus. The legislature’s fiscal office in March estimated the cost of treatment at up to $158 million, depending on how many of the 13,000 prisoners have hepatitis C.
Correction Commissioner Rollin Cook announced the plan in a memo, eight years after the Food and Drug Administration approved a course of treatment with a 90 percent or greater success rate. Testing will begin within a month and include the several thousand pretrial inmates who are in jail because they haven’t been able to make bond. Pretrial detainees, who are in and out of prison, typically have serious mental health, medical and substance abuse conditions. A disproportionate number of these inmates are women. Once they are inside the walls, it becomes the responsibility of the prison system to treat them and the public to pay for it out of the state budget. Medicaid reimbursements are not available in prison, a factor that has prompted discussions in the legislature about community-based alternatives for nonviolent, indigent offenders who can’t make bail and who require treatment.
After two rounds of tests, Cook writes in the memo, “agency health-services staff will treat those who are infected, starting with the most serious cases first, in accordance with [federal Bureau of Prisons guidelines].” A federal judge last week denied a state motion to dismiss the hepatitis C lawsuit.