Kim Caldwell was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 2015, when he was screened upon his incarceration in a North Carolina state prison. He was told he needed a follow-up screening to determine if he required treatment. Caldwell never received that follow-up, and despite making requests, filing grievances, and transitioning facilities, he has still not received treatment for this disease.
Caldwell is one of three prisoners with Hepatitis C that are plaintiffs in a federal class-action lawsuit against North Carolina state officials. The suit was recently filed by the the ACLU of North Carolina and North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services.
Caldwell, Lloyd Buffkin and Robert Parham’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of all people incarcerated in North Carolina with Hepatitis C, according to the ACLU press release. The lawsuit claims that North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety refuses to provide adequate, life-saving medical treatment to inmates with this disease. The plaintiffs are seeking proper screening and proper treatment for prisoners with Hepatitis C in North Carolina.
Hepatitis C is a highly communicable disease that can be contracted through means such as intravenous drug use, unregulated tattoos or piercings, and needlestick injuries in healthcare settings. Left untreated, the disease can cause liver cancer or disease, and death. The Center for Disease Control, the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease, and the Infectious Diseases Society of America all recommended testing for incarcerated people. According to the National Hepatitis Corrections Network, correctional populations represent about 1/3 of total cases of Hepatitis C in the country.
Emily Seawell, an attorney with the ACLU of NC, explained that in the state, universal screening of prisoners is not required. Experiences of prisoners vary depending on facilities and prison officials.
“Some prisoners get screened upon entry, some get screened shortly thereafter, and some are still awaiting additional screening and have never received any,” Seawell said.
In an email, communications officer for DPS Jerry Higgins wrote, “The Department of Public Safety takes seriously screening and treatment of Hepatitis C (HCV) in its incarcerated population.”
According to the lawsuit’s press release, “With very narrow exceptions, North Carolina DPS policy expressly forbids the treatment of prisoners whose Hepatitis C is caught early, when treatment would be most effective.”
For the majority of N.C. prisoners that have Hepatitis C, Seawell said there is no treatment option, and the treatment plan that does exist is haphazard and arbitrarily conducted.