States Face Costly Conundrum: How To Treat Inmates With Hepatitis C

January 24, 2018

In a corner of Jymie Jimerson’s house in the town of Sparta, in southwestern Missouri, she has set up a kind of shrine. It has Native American art representing her Cherokee heritage alongside Willie Nelson albums, books and photos in remembrance of her late husband.

There’s a copy of Nelson’s mid-’70s LP “Red Headed Stranger.”

“When Steve was young, he had red hair and a red beard, so he always really identified with Willie’s ‘Red Headed Stranger,'” Jimerson said. “I try to keep it up there as a reminder of better days.”

Her husband, Steve Jimerson, was sentenced to life in prison in 1996 for his role in the shooting deaths of two men. Jimerson said her husband’s life had been ravaged by drug abuse. But after he entered prison, he got off drugs and become a mentor for other inmates.

“Once he got inside, recovery became his life,” Jimerson said. “And that was his passion until the day he died.”

Steve Jimerson died on Jan. 6, 2017, of complications from hepatitis C, a liver infection that’s especially widespread among prison inmates. He was 59.

While the disease is common among the incarcerated, treatment with the latest hepatitis drugs isn’t.

Civil liberties groups in Missouri and at least seven other states are now suing to get more inmates treated with new-generation hepatitis C drugs that are highly effective but also costly.

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