PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A federal court has ordered the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to administer an expensive, hepatitis C medication to convicted cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal. The ruling could have a big impact on prisoner rights.
Mumia Abu-Jamal has spent 29 years on death row following his conviction in the 1981 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. He was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2015. When new anti-viral medications offered a cure, he asked for it, but prison officials denied the request, citing protocols that only give the treatment when symptoms progress.
“It’s a about a thousand dollars a pill,” said attorney Bret Grote, who represents Abu-Jamal. “For a full course of treatment it can run up to $80,000.”
Grote says the protocol was meant to keep costs down. The court ruled it is illegal as to Abu-Jamal- ordering prison officials to administer the drug within 21 days.
“It is unconstitutional. It is based on non-medical factors and it delays and denies care,” Grote said. “People who are incarcerated have a right to medical care. Whatever the fiscal concerns the department has do not outweigh the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
Roughly 5,000 Pennsylvania inmates suffer from hepatitis C, and Su-Ming Yeh of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project is hoping the ruling has a broader impact.
“That is good news for inmates in the Department of Corrections,” she said. “But it doesn’t necessarily help each individual get treatment.”
“We don’t hold off on treating breast cancer just because chemotherapy might be expensive,” Ming Yeh added.
There is no word yet on whether the Department of Corrections will appeal.