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Hepatitis C in Prisons

Up to one third of population of Texan inmates could be infected with Hepatitis C. Illegal tattoos that the inmates are an easy way to become infected. The prison population is already prone to Hepatitis C because of their close quarters and “high-risk behavior like intravenous drug use outside of prison.” As the number of inmate with Hepatitis C increases, the cost to treat these inmates also increases; it is estimated that the cost to treat Texas inmates infected with the disease will almost quadruple in the next year. Another contributing factor to the increasing price is that the current medication used to treat the inmates is expensive, and new medical guidelines require a third medication which further increase the cost to $8 million per year, at best.

Because the costs of the medications are so high, several agencies are working together to try to prevent further outbreaks and treat current cases. Experts have suggested that to prevent new cases of Hepatitis C from occurring, prisons could provide sterile needles for tattooing so that prisoners do not resort to crude, handmade needles. There is also a program in several prison facilities where inmates educate other inmates about Hepatitis C and how they can prevent infection.

We can think of this as a game where the players consist of inmates on one side and prison officials, doctors, policy makers, etc. on the other. The strategies of the inmates would be to either practice safe habits such as avoiding prison tattoos and not sharing items such as razors. The strategies of the other players would be to try to continue finding more effective, cheaper treatments for Hepatitis C, or to leave the situation as is currently is where costs would skyrocket and Hepatitis C would spread even more among the inmates. Although the people outside the prison would receive a higher payoff by doing nothing about the situation, the Texas state senator points out that “this is not just about inmates and their cellmates; it’s about our communities where these inmates are being released.” With this outside factor in mind, it may very well be in the best interest of every player to work towards resolving the Hepatitis C issue in prisons.



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