Massachusetts Department of Correction settles lawsuit on treating inmates with hepatitis C

March 12th, 2018

March 10, 2018
By Shira Schoenberg

The Massachusetts Department of Correction has reached a settlement with prisoners’ rights groups over its medical treatment of prison inmates with hepatitis C.

The settlement requires prisoners with the most serious cases of hepatitis C to be treated within 12 months. Prisoners with less serious cases will have to be treated within 18 months. Every new prisoner will be tested for hepatitis C, and those who have the disease will be treated.

Attorneys for the National Lawyers Guild and Prisoners’ Legal Services filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Boston in 2015 on behalf of prisoners who have hepatitis C.

Joel Thompson, an attorney with Prisoners’ Legal Services and the lead attorney on the case, said these drugs have high cure rates, and treating prisoners in prison will lead to less transmission of the disease once prisoners are released, and lower health care costs and complications later on.

Thompson said someone in prison is sentenced to loss of liberty. “It shouldn’t be the loss of liberty and substandard health care and liver cancer or cirrhosis,” Thompson said.

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More Prison Inmates Get Access to Hepatitis-C Drugs

March 12th, 2018

March 10, 2018
Wall Street Journal
By Peter Loftus

Massachusetts state prison officials agreed to expand treatment for inmates with hepatitis C, in the first settlement among several class-action lawsuits accusing state prison systems of denying many prisoners access to costly drugs.

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Prisoners, Mass. reach settlement agreement for treatment of hepatitis C

March 12th, 2018

March 10, 2018
The Boston Globe
By Katheleen Conti

Prisoners in Massachusetts who have hepatitis C could soon be treated more frequently and with more effective, and more expensive, drugs as part of what is believed to be a groundbreaking class-action settlement agreement reached with the Massachusetts Department of Correction.

If the agreement, filed in federal court in Boston on Friday, receives preliminary approval from the court, prisoners with the most serious cases of the disease will begin to be treated under the new guidelines within the next 12 months.

Inmates with less advanced stages of hepatitis C would get treated within 18 months. New prisoners will be given the option to be tested for the disease.

The settlement would also get rid of an exclusion that allowed the Department of Correction to deny prisoners treatment if they had less time remaining on their sentence than was needed for treatment, typically 8 to 12 weeks, said Joel Thompson, an attorney with Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts who represented the prisoners.

“The main thing here is it sets clear time frames for treating sick people,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be a real benefit to our clients.”

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Lawsuits add up over Bristol County jail inmate suicides

March 9th, 2018

March 9, 2018
The Boston Globe
By Jenifer McKim and Chris Burrell

Barbara Kice wants justice for her son, who hanged himself in 2015 in the Bristol County House of Correction. The jail, all by itself, accounts for more than a quarter of county inmate suicides statewide, and Kice thinks she knows why so many die: Jail officials do precious little to care for troubled inmates.

The Fall River mother filed a wrongful death suit late last month against Bristol County jail staff — and its tough-talking sheriff — claiming jail officials left him in solitary confinement the day after he had told a court doctor that he was going to commit suicide. He hanged himself with a bedsheet.

Kice’s lawsuit is one of at least four ongoing cases filed by family members or current inmates alleging that the Bristol County system fails to care for its mentally ill, drug addicted, and suicidal inmates. Each lawsuit claims that jail officials put troubled inmates alone in cells — sometimes for long periods — instead of providing special treatment to deal with mental illness or drug withdrawal.

Bonnie Tenneriello, a senior attorney with the Boston-based Prisoners’ Legal Services who is representing the clients, said her agency had heard for a “long, long time from prisoners with mental illness . . . who were warehoused in solitary confinement’’ for up to 23 hours a day.

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New visitor limits for state-run prisons

March 9th, 2018

March 9, 2018
The Lowell Sun
By Rick Sobey

SHIRLEY — The Middlesex County sheriff sometimes physically notices inmates getting ready for family visits.

“They look forward to it, keeping themselves groomed for their families,” said Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian.

Maintaining that face-to-face connection with their families is critical for an inmates’ successful re-entry to society, the sheriff stressed.

There’s no visitor cap at the Middlesex Jail and House of Correction of Billerica, and it will stay that way.

However, visitor policies are changing at Massachusetts Department of Correction facilities across the state — a move that prisoner advocates say could lead to higher recidivism rates.

Because the average number of distinct visitors is so low, the limits are unnecessary, according to Leslie Walker, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services.

“Several of them have no visitors, so you end up penalizing the folks lucky enough to have visitors on a regular basis,” she said. “It seems hurtful. A lot of people will be harmed by this.”

Visitation is one of the best predictors for successful reentry and avoiding recidivism, Walker said.

It’s very difficult to maintain family ties without regular visits, she said.

“It’s important to have a stable place to live when looking for a job after prison,” she said. “Instead of living at a shelter or on the street.”

Prisoners’ Legal Services is considering a class-action lawsuit against these new limits, according to Walker.

“We feel that this is an excessive punishment,” she said.

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