Society for Public Health Education  |  October 28, 2022

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Recent nationwide racial justice uprisings following ongoing police violence against Black communities juxtaposed with the COVID-19 pandemic have increased the urgency for a reckoning around the ineffectiveness and harm caused by the carceral apparatus. It is well documented that the correctional system was founded upon and continues the legacy of slavery and white supremacy. Research has shown that incarceration directly contributes to many negative health outcomes, including increased risk and spread of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections, especially among people who inject drugs. This high burden of HCV disproportionately impacts low-income communities of color, who not only report higher rates of substance use due to pervasive discrimination but are also over-incarcerated as a result of structural racism and the War on Drugs. The COVID-19 pandemic further underscores that correctional facilities are fundamentally structured to promote health inequities. Minoritized communities who are overrepresented in corrections continue to be put at increased risk of COVID-19 in overcrowded facilities, are isolated from social support and medical care, and have been ignored in vaccination strategies. In this perspective, we argue that HCV interventions within the carceral apparatus will remain largely ineffective due to the negative health impacts of incarceration. Instead, we propose adopting abolitionist principles for HCV elimination—divesting from the carceral apparatus to prioritize community-based efforts on promoting HCV screening, treatment, and prevention. In doing so, the nation will have not only the capacity to meaningfully eliminate HCV but also the potential to improve overall societal outcomes.

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