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Illinois Prisoners Win $8 Million for Failure to Treat Hep C

A federal jury has awarded four Illinois prisoners over $2 million apiece in a civil rights action filed against state prison officials for denying treatment for Hepatitis C (Hep C).

In 2005, Edward J. Roe, Anthony P. Stasiak, Timothy J. Stephen and Jackson Walker, all state prisoners at the Logan Correctional Center (LCC) in Lincoln, Illinois, were denied Hep C treatment. Hep C is a blood-borne disease that can cause liver failure if left untreated; it is most often spread through IV drug use, needle sharing (including tattoo needles) and unprotected sex.

Larry Sims, the Chief Administrative Officer at LCC; Willard Elyea, Medical Director for the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC); and IDOC Director Roger Walker refused to provide Hep C treatment based on a blanket policy that denied such treatment to prisoners with fewer than 18 months left to serve on their sentences.

In September 2005, the four LCC prisoners filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois. They claimed the non-treatment policy resulted from the defendants’ deliberate indifference to their serious medical needs, in violation of the 8th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

On February 15, 2008 a federal jury agreed that the policy was unconstitutional, and awarded the prisoners $20,000 each in actual damages and $2,000,000 each in punitive damages.

Attorney H. Kent Heller of Mattoon, Illinois represented the plaintiffs; he said this was the largest monetary judgment he had ever won for a client. Attorney fees have not yet been awarded in this case. See: Roe v. Sims, U.S.D.C. CD Ill., Case No. 3:06-cv-03034-HAB-CHE.

Hep C-related prison litigation appears to be on the upswing, since large numbers of prisoners are infected with the disease and most prison systems are unwilling to provide the expensive – though necessary – medical treatment for it.

For example, on July 8, 2008, a class action lawsuit was filed against the California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) on behalf of California’s 159,000 state prisoners. The complaint states they do not receive adequate treatment for Hep C, which infects an estimated 40 percent of the CDCR population. See: Jackson v. Dezember, U.S.D.C. CD Cal., Case No. 2:08-cv-04454-GHK-FMO.

“This is a nasty, nasty disease,” said attorney Shawn Khorrami, who filed the class action suit. “We don’t allow this kind of punishment in America, where someone has a disease and we have them suffer from it and have all kinds of problems going forward in their lives just because they’ve committed a crime.”

Actually prison officials routinely allow such punitive medical neglect to occur, which is why such lawsuits are necessary.

Additional sources: Herald & Review, Associated Press

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Related legal cases

Roe v. Sims

Jackson v. Dezember


 

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