A federal judge has approved a settlement between state prisoners who have Hepatitis C and the state’s Department of Correction that overhauls the agency’s protocol for identifying and treating inmates with the disease.
Under the terms of the settlement, new DOC prisoners will be offered Hepatitis C tests, and a new process for evaluating Hepatitis C patients “will ensure a timely assessment of the severity of their illness,” according to a statement from the attorneys representing the prisoners.
A class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of more than 1,000 prisoners with chronic Hepatitis C in 2015.
The introduction of new “direct acting antiviral medications,” known as DAAs, to the market in 2013 prompted Prisoners’ Legal Services and the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild to file the suit, arguing that denial of the new medication constituted cruel and unusual punishment, said Joel Thompson, an attorney representing the plaintiffs.
“That was the whole claim,” said Thompson during a phone interview Friday night.
Jason Dobson, a spokesman for the DOC, addressed the settlement in a Saturday e-mail.
“The DOC worked closely with plaintiffs’ counsel to better address Hepatitis C in our inmate population through the use of direct acting anti-viral medications,” said Dobson.
The DAAs, according to a statement from the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, have a high cure rate.
“It works for almost everyone,” said Thompson.
When the suit was filed, though, only three prisoners had been treated with those medications out of more than 1,800 who had Hepatitis C, according to their lawyers.
A federal judge in Boston approved the settlement on Friday.
According to the terms, by September 2019, the DOC will treat 280 prisoners with the most advanced disease with the DAAs. After September 2019, the agency will treat prisoners with moderate or advanced Hepatitis C on a new timeline, which will range from three months to 12 months, said Thompson.
The DOC began implementation of the new protocol in March, according to the agency.
Under the settlement, the DOC’s new policy will not allow for prisoners to be denied treatment because of imminent release or alleged misbehavior.
A third-party monitor will ensure new Hepatitis C treatment policy is being followed for the next two and a half years, according to the statement of the attorneys representing the prisoners. Those attorneys said they would also monitor the DOC’s compliance, through reports and communication with prisoners.