From the Editor
by Paul Wright
For the past 30 years, as mass incarceration rates have skyrocketed, so has the number of prisoners infected with hepatitis C (HCV). This is in part because so many prisoners are current or former intravenous drug users, and so much time and energy is spent arresting and imprisoning poor drug users. Illicit drug use behind bars and tattooing with dirty needles also contribute to the spread of HCV among prisoners.
For decades, prison officials have adhered to a policy of refusing to treat prisoners with HCV who were not exhibiting symptoms, claiming they were not yet in need of treatment, then once the prisoners were very ill they would refuse to provide treatment because it was too late or too expensive to do so.
With the recent advent of new drugs that can cure HCV with few debilitating side effects and shorter treatment regimens, the only excuse prison officials have for refusing to provide treatment is the high cost. Yet as repeatedly reported in PLN, when it comes to obtaining drugs to kill prisoners via lethal injections, many states will spare no effort or expense – purchasing execution drugs from compounding pharmacies and far-away countries like India.
Of course, many if not most of the conservative politicians running these prison systems claim to be “pro life” – but not, apparently, when it comes to providing prisoners with life-saving, rather than life-ending, drugs.
We will continue to report HCV-related medical and legal developments, including recent lawsuits in Tennessee and Florida that seek treatment for prisoners with HCV.
One of the saddest duties I have as editor of PLN is reporting the deaths of our friends and supporters. Scott Christianson, 69, was a prolific, award-winning writer and journalist on criminal justice issues and a longtime friend and supporter of PLN. He was also the author of the acclaimed book With Liberty for Some: 500 Years of Imprisonment in America, which he was in the process of updating for publication by PLN in a new edition. Sadly, Scott died in a tragic accident at his home in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on Mother’s Day.
We deeply mourn his death and look forward to working with his wife and partner, Tamar Gordon, to get the new edition of With Liberty for Some published later this year. Scott is survived by his wife, three children and a grandson; he was an excellent journalist and his work will live on. This issue of PLN is dedicated to Scott and his memory.
One of the many criminal justice issues we are tackling involves debit cards issued to prisoners upon their release from prisons and jails. Often when prisoners are released they are given debit cards and charged fees to access their own money, with no other options. If this has happened to you and you are interested in challenging that practice through litigation to recoup your money, please contact us with details about the facility that issued the card, the name of the debit card company, when it occurred and any documentation you received.
We are also looking for people who have set up phone accounts to accept calls from prisoners and had their money taken due to lack of activity, or who have been charged high rates for accepting a single phone call from a prisoner (such as a flat rate to accept a one-time call with payment via a credit card). If you know anyone this has happened to who is interested in challenging these practices through litigation, please ask them to contact us.
Enjoy this issue of PLN and please encourage others to subscribe and donate to support our work.