Family Sues Sheriff Over Death of HCV-Positive Inmate

What Happened?

In late 2016, Sheriff Marlin Gusman, of Orleans Parish in New Orleans, Louisiana was sued by the family of Calvin Thomas (also known as Calvin Deal). Calvin was a 34 year old prison inmate who had both sickle-cell anemia and hepatitis C. In November, 2015, Calvin was taken to the hospital due to severe pain, believed to be related to his sickle-cell. He died after three days in the hospital. Calvin’s family claims that he was not given proper medical treatment, which led to his pain and to his death. In addition, Calvin’s family says that he was harmed by a security guard and that he regularly complained of medical illness to prison staff and his needs were ignored. This situation occurred at the Orleans Parish Prison, which was the focus of a class-action law suit in 2009 and Sheriff Gusman had already been in court in 2012 regarding the death of another inmate’s lack of health care. However, because of the 2012 situation, an outside organization had taken over the general care of the prison population and it is currently unknown whether Gusman actually had any interactions with Calvin or made any decisions regarding his care. This information will become clear as the investigation for the law suit continues.

Why It Matters

The most immediate concern is whether this specific prison and/or its prison guards are dangerous for inmates. When a person becomes custody of the state and confined to a prison, the government requires that the facility treat the inmates with basic respect and it is actually illegal for a person serving time in prison to not be provided with proper food, hygiene, and a person’s basic human needs, which is intended to include medical treatment. The family’s allegation that the prison prevented the medical treatment of their relative means that they are accusing the prison of breaking the law and causing or at least contributing to the death of their loved one. If this is proven to be accurate, it may lead to a monetary payment to the family and it may lead other inmates to be assessed for injury or neglect. If the problem is determined to be systemic, it could lead to the closure of the prison and the moving of the inmates, which can lead to overcrowding in other prisons and the termination of jobs for everyone at the prison facility.

The other major concern is what counts as mandatory medical care. Medical research is clear in that hepatitis C can cause havoc on the organs of someone with the virus, unless they receive proper medical treatment. However, the treatment options for hepatitis C typically cost more than $100,000 USD. This cost means that there are many American citizens who are unable to access the medication because they cannot afford it. Americans who are on financial assistance plans through their state or their federal government may also discover that hepatitis C medication is not covered by their insurance plan or that they must become sick to a certain level before they qualify to receive the medication they need to cure their hepatitis C virus. This brings up a concern for some members of the general public as to whether it is fair and just that a prison inmate should be receiving a medical treatment that those who had not committed crimes were unable to obtain.

What Happens Next?

There is likely to be an investigation regarding the specific inmate whose family is suing the prison Sheriff, as well as whether there is a larger problem occurring with the way inmates are being treated within that specific facility. It problems are discovered, other prisons may be reviewed to see whether this is a systemic problem in the area. In addition, appropriate measures may need to be taken to fix any problems that are is covered. If a court hearing is had to prosecute any misconduct or if the city or state pays the family any money, the news will likely be alerted.

In addition, this may be seen as another case to include in the conversation of why inmates may have access to better healthcare than American citizens who have not committed or been convicted of crimes. Some may argue that this means that prison inmates should receive lesser healthcare, which would then lend to conversation over whether the absence of care would mean illegal treatment of an inmate. Others may argue that every American deserves access to a medical treatment that would rid their body of such a detrimental virus. This conversation will likely tie into the larger debate over whether Americans should have some form of universal healthcare, which a topic that is bound to be ongoing through the changing of American Presidents and into the new President’s time in office.1-3

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