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Prison Inmates With Hepatitis C Win Court Victory

A recent federal court decision out of Tennessee is making headlines due to the impact it could have on inmates diagnosed with Hepatitis C in the state's correctional facilities. The decision grants class certification to the lawsuit, which means that the case can proceed to prove the allegations as a class action case and represent the class of over 3,000 inmates with the disease.

The case seeks an institution-wide change to the way inmates with Hepatitis C are treated while in custody. The case alleges that the denial of appropriate medical care is a violation of the Eighth Amendment which protects individuals from cruel and unusual punishment, including the denial of medical care or provision of inadequate medical care.

Who Controls Medical Care?

Typically, inmate medical care is an issue of moral contention. States must find cost-effective medical care maintaining the appropriate levels of care. This leads to policies that may not make all forms of medical care or treatment available to inmates, so long as there is support in the medical community for the approach. For instance, if there are two methods of treatment that essentially reach the same result, the state can only provide the more cost effective one, unless there is a clear consensus against doing so in the medical community.

The Tennessee case covers this issue specifically related to the currently available Hepatitis C treatments. The case alleges that inmates are refused access to a more effective treatment to cure the disease, in favor of a less effective method which nearly amounts to no treatment at all, which causes needless pain and suffering, and risk of death.

How to Object to Medical Treatment While In-Custody?

Unfortunately, when an inmate receives substandard medical care, they may not have any options other than to try to work within their institution, county, or state's legal framework, at least while still in-custody. If resources are available to hire an attorney, or to pursue the case on one's own, or if there is a non-profit willing to champion the cause, an inmate can seek legal relief from the federal courts.

At first, there may be grievance procedures, or complaint forms that an inmate can fill out while in-custody. If, or when, those efforts prove futile, the next steps may require taking legal action by filing a federal lawsuit. Eighth Amendment claims regarding medical treatment are extraordinarily difficult claims to prove, and as such, seeking out a legal consultation with an experienced civil rights lawyer could prove immensely helpful.

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