by Sharon Rondeau

Graphic credit: Wikipedia

(Nov. 25, 2016) — The letter which follows was received on Monday, November 21. Its author, Omowale A. Shabazz, refers to reportage done by The Tennessean on the growing problem of Hepatitis C within Tennessee’s prison population and two lawsuits Shabazz has filed alleging lack of treatment for the disease.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) describes Hepatitis C as “a liver infection caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus. Today, most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness but for 70%–85% of people who become infected with Hepatitis C, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection. Chronic Hepatitis C is a serious disease than can result in long-term health problems, even death. The majority of infected persons might not be aware of their infection because they are not clinically ill. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C. The best way to prevent Hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injecting drugs.”

On May 10 of this year, The Tennessean’s Dave Boucher reported of the increasing number of Hepatitis C cases that “State prison officials know they have an epidemic on their hands, but are not taking steps to actually tackle the problem.”

In testing done on Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) inmates last year, nearly half tested positive for the disease, Boucher reported, but few have received medical treatment.

In his letter, Shabazz wrote, “I’ve been denied treatment since 2008, and one of my cases is scheduled to go to trial in January 2017. I have a settlement conference scheduled for December, so in a couple of weeks I’ll be in Nashville.”

The Post & Email began reporting on conditions within Tennessee’s prisons after LCDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III (Ret) entered the correctional system in August 2014 and provided copious eyewitness accounts of forced participation in federally-funded classes, intimidation on the part of correction officers and staff, random raids on his cell, poor or nonexistent medical and dental care, and an inmate with a potentially contagious medical condition being housed not only in the general population, but also in the same cell as an inmate employed in the prison kitchen.

Numerous other Tennessee inmates have reported receiving prescribed medication only sporadically and a lack of access to medical treatment.  Accounts of gang activity, unrestrained theft of personal property, beatings of inmates by correction officers, unwarranted solitary confinement, and other abuses have been routinely published by The Post & Email but are rarely reported in the mainstream press.

During a telephone interview in August, TDOC Communications Director Neysa Taylor told The Post & Email that all of the reports we received from inmates and their relatives detailing harsh and unsafe conditions are “inaccurate,” the same response she gave to WSMV when it reported last year that a former correction officer instructor claimed that some trainees within the program were themselves gang members.

On December 30, WSMV published a documentary exposing corruption within Tennessee prisons involving contraband provided to inmates which it said amounted to “a criminal enterprise.”

In an article dated October 30, 2016, The Post & Email published documentation from Shabazz which appeared to corroborate Fitzpatrick’s report of unqualified prisoners having been forced to enroll in classes with the apparent purpose of the TDOC billing the federal government for each enrollee.  Shabazz termed the operation a “criminal conspiracy.”

The Post & Email will be responding to Mr. Shabazz’s letter to request the additional documentation he said he possesses on “numerous abuses” he alleges are taking place within the prison system.

Update, 6:31 p.m.:  A class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of inmates with Hepatitis C with the assistance of the prison-reform organization No Exceptions can be read here.

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