Our sister paper, the Gainesville Sun, has uncovered some alarming facts on the Florida Department of Corrections that presents a two-fold threat for state residents and taxpayers.
A U.S. District Judge has ruled the DOC immediately test the state prison system’s population for the hepatitis C virus.
The newspaper reports that there has been a treatment available since 2013, but it was rarely if ever used in the state prison system.
The state’s story is that treatment was too expensive. In his ruling the judge said the DOC “has a long and sordid history of failing to treat … infected inmates.”
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease, spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person. It’s frightening to ponder the myriad ways a confined body of criminals might be subjected to another’s blood. But the disease can also be transmitted by tattoos or piercings with non-sterile instruments.
Prison tattoos are commonplace, differentiating gangs from one another. Shared needles are another common carrier of the virus and, according to some who have been inside, drugs are just about as easy to get as on the outside. Experts say the infection rate in the state population is 1 percent. They expect to find that the rate is between 15 and 40 percent inside the prisons.
The medication needed to treat the infected inmates is $37,000 per person. The DOC has now submitted a legislative budget request that includes $19.5 million to begin treating just 500 inmates. The potential costs are staggering.
But above that cost how many inmates have done their time, only to carry the virus to populations outside.
The Sun lists this as but one of the recent blunders by the DOC. Others include poor access to mental health treatment, soaring rates of prison violence and completely inadequate rehabilitation and education programs. “The are symptoms of a prison system that isn’t working. Instead, it’s dumping very ill and often shockingly unprepared people back into families and communities that aren’t prepared to deal with them. … No wonder recidivism rates are so high.”
This is not a game of kick the can down the road. Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Legislature and Corrections Secretary Julie Jones have been playing that game for years. But now it’s time to end it. It’s time to embrace serious prison reform.”