The Florida Department of Corrections on Wednesday requested over $19 million to treat inmates who have the Hepatitis C virus, even as the state prisons agency is embroiled in a class-action lawsuit over that treatment.
The request was made before the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, as part of each state agency’s annual legislative budget request. Treatment for Hep C costs anywhere from $25,000-$50,000 per inmate, according to the department.
Kim Banks, the agency’s chief financial officer, told lawmakers that DOC estimates around 500 inmates have the virus.
Following the presentation to lawmakers detailing the state agency’s operating budget, which hovers around $2.4 billion each year, Rep. Patricia Williams, a Lauderdale Lakes Democrat, asked for an explanation of the need for Hep C treatment.
“What happens if we’re not funding this portion (Hep C treatment) of the budget,” Williams asked. “What’s the ramification?”
With an ongoing case looming over FDC, Banks was limited as to what she could say. She told Williams that FDC does not currently have funding for Hep C treatment, but could not speak to potential consequences.
Williams clarified by asking, “What would happen in the facility if (DOC) does not receive the funding?”
Banks redirected Williams to Kenneth Steely, DOC’s general counsel. “We are in the middle of a hearing right now,” Steely said, explaining that the ramifications are contingent on the case’s outcome.
“We have a constitutional duty to provide care to inmates,” he added. “In the next couple weeks, we’ll have more information on the status of the litigation.”
Williams then asked a hypothetical: “If (Hep C treatment) is not funded, does it have a chance, or possibility, of spreading throughout the facility?”
Steely said he was not qualified to answer the question.
Rep. Robert Asencio, a Miami-Dade Democrat, added: “If you’re not the authority to provide a better answer, or analysis of what the outcome would be from a lack of funding, then I’d like you to bring somebody that does have the capacity to be able to answer that.”
The lawsuit was filed in May by the Florida Justice Institute.
The Miami Herald reported Randall C. Berg Jr., the institute’s executive director, as saying DOC sees the virus as easy to cure, but “routinely fails to provide lifesaving medication to people incarcerated in Florida.”
The lawsuit also alleges up to 40,000 inmates could have some form of the disease, which can spread to the public if not treated before infected inmates are released.