Across the United States, about 1 of every 7 individuals in jail or prison has chronic hepatitis C. In some states, such as New Mexico, it’s closer to 1 in 3. With approximately 9 million people spending time in prison or jail over the course of a year, more than 1.2 million incarcerated individuals have chronic hepatitis C.
Left untreated, this viral disease can cause serious and costly health problems, including cirrhosis, liver cancer, liver failure, and even death. Once a difficult-to-treat infection, chronic hepatitis C can now be cured by taking a regimen of daily pills for eight to 12 weeks that act directly against the virus. But there’s a hitch: This cure costs $25,000 or more per person.
Although treating every incarcerated individual with chronic hepatitis C is the right thing to do for several reasons (more on that in a minute), doing it would exceed the health care budgets of jail and prison systems.