July 18, 2005
A recent ruling by a New York panel of judges said prison officials' denial of medical treatment for a Sing Sing inmate with hepatitis C amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment." Four judges of the state Supreme Court's Appellate Division unanimously upheld a May 2003 order by state Supreme Court Justice Mary Smith directing prison officials to provide medication for the inmate, whose condition was diagnosed in February 2002.
The prisoner has been incarcerated since 1999, serving a 16-year maximum sentence for attempted murder. Prison officials directed the inmate to participate in an intensive six-month drug-treatment program in order to receive treatment for hepatitis. After two weeks, the prisoner dropped out of the program, saying he had not used drugs for 30 years, the program contained no useful information about his medical condition, and it disrupted his educational classes and work schedule. The prisoner filed an inmate grievance in May 2002 and a lawsuit on his own behalf after the grievance was denied.
Prison officials refused to provide the prisoner medication while Smith's ruling was appealed. James Flateau, a spokesperson for the state Department of Correctional Services, would not comment on the case while the department reviews whether to appeal the latest Court of Appeals ruling.
Correction officials said the prisoner's admission to prior use of drugs and alcohol and his refusal to stay in the drug-treatment program justified their withholding medication, despite a doctor having written the inmate a prescription for interferon in September 2002.
In her ruling, Smith wrote that while there were limitations to treatments available for hepatitis C, "this court finds no treatment at all to be repugnant to our standards of decency."