ACLU-VT & Harvard Law Clinic’s settlement on prisoners’ Hep C case preliminarily approved

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ACLU-VT & Harvard Law Clinic’s settlement on prisoners’ Hep C case preliminarily approved

Thu, 07/15/2021 - 1:49pm -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine A federal district court in Burlington gave preliminary approval on a class action settlement reflecting Vermont’s agreement to improve and expand access to the Hepatitis C cure for people in Department of Corrections (DOC) custody. The settlement will resolve the class action lawsuit filed in 2019 on behalf of hundreds of incarcerated Vermonters by the ACLU of Vermont, the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School (CHLPI), and Costello, Valente & Gentry, P.C. (CVG), which challenged the DOC’s policy and practice of denying lifesaving medical care to hundreds of incarcerated Vermonters.

ACLU of Vermont General Counsel Jay Diaz: “This case is about Vermont recognizing the basic health care rights of all individuals incarcerated and in its custody. Hepatitis C is a silent epidemic impacting thousands of Vermonters and millions across the United States, but it is also curable. If Vermont is going to stop the spread of Hepatitis C, it is critical that we expand access to treatment to all who need it. While DOC has fallen short of providing the cure for all incarcerated Vermonters in the proposed settlement, this agreement represents an important step towards addressing past failures and recognizing the basic dignity and humanity of people in Vermont prisons.”

Hepatitis C (HCV) is an infectious viral disease that affects hundreds of incarcerated Vermonters and thousands more people across the state. The disease — identified by the CDC as among the deadliest infectious diseases in America — if left untreated, is likely to cause a variety of medical symptoms, including permanent liver damage, and in some cases, cancer and death.

The settlement agreement features several provisions to ensure that incarcerated Vermonters will have expanded access to the Hepatitis C cure, including:

  • DOC will follow a newly adopted, written treatment policy and provide treatment to sentenced people with Hepatitis C, unless they are soon to be released, or those who are “especially compromised”  ,
  • The Court will maintain jurisdiction to make sure that DOC maintains the policy and properly follows its requirements;
  • People in DOC custody who believe they have been improperly denied access to the Hepatitis C cure can work with the class counsel for informal resolution before going directly to court and bypass the lengthy and complex administrative grievance process; and
  • DOC will provide class counsel with regular reports on the execution of the policy to make sure that it is being implemented. 

Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School Director of Litigation Kevin Costello: “In prior years, Vermont officials needlessly endangered people’s lives and allowed a curable disease to spread.  That went on for too long.  Now, with this settlement, and thanks to the courageous plaintiffs and other Vermonters willing to challenge an unjust policy, the people in our prison system who are impacted by this awful disease have access to treatment.  We will work hard to ensure that Vermont lives up to the promise of this new policy.”

Costello, Valente & Gentry, P.C. President James Valente: “This settlement brings to a close the first major undertaking of CVG's Social Firm.  We were proud to work with the extraordinary lawyers at the Vermont ACLU and faculty and students from Harvard Law School.  Their skill, expertise and tenacity were necessary to achieve systemic improvements to Vermont's correctional care which will save lives and alleviate suffering.”

The class action lawsuit was filed in May 2019 on behalf of Richard West, a now-former Vermont inmate, and Joseph Bruyette, a current Vermont inmate, and was certified as a class action in April 2020. The Plaintiffs argued in the complaint that DOC’s refusal to provide treatment is unconstitutional because it violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The settlement and other case materials are here.

About the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School (CHLPI)
The Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School (CHLPI) advocates for legal, regulatory, and policy reforms to improve the health of marginalized populations, with a focus on the needs of low-income people living with chronic illnesses and disabilities. CHLPI works with consumers, advocates, community-based organizations, health and social services professionals, government officials, and others to expand access to high-quality health care; to reduce health disparities; to develop community advocacy capacity; and to promote more equitable and effective health care systems. CHLPI is a clinical teaching program of Harvard Law School and mentors students to become skilled, innovative, and thoughtful practitioners as well as leaders in health and public health law and policy. For more information, visit http://www.chlpi.org.

About the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont
The American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont is dedicated to advancing the civil rights and civil liberties of all Vermonters. Since its founding in 1967, the ACLU of Vermont has been the state's premier guardian of liberty, working in the courts, the legislature, and in communities to preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by our Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Our efforts are focused on broad range of issues impacting Vermonters' constitutional rights, including freedom of speech, criminal justice reform, racial justice, women's rights, LGBT rights, disability rights, voting rights, prisoners' rights, immigrants' rights, religious liberty, privacy, and more.   We strive to ensure that the most vulnerable communities and those who have historically been denied their rights are afforded the same protections as everyone else, including children, prisoners, people with disabilities, immigrants, homeless individuals, and low-income communities.

In Vermont and across the country, the ACLU fights for the principle that every individual’s rights must be protected equally under the law.

Source: 7.15.2021. MONTPELIER, Vt. – American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont