Claiborne County, TN jail says most inmates are hepatitis C positive

Claiborne County, TN jail says most inmates are hepatitis C positive (Image 1)

NEW TAZEWELL (WATE) – With hepatitis C on the rise in Appalachia, an East Tennessee sheriff thinks that almost all of the inmates in his jail have the virus, and he has test results to prove it.

Claiborne County Sheriff David Ray said the county jail randomly tested a few dozen inmates to see how many hepatitis C positive inmates might be in the jail and 92 percent of the tested inmates ended up with positive results. Both he and several inmates said the percentage will be the same, if not higher, throughout the rest of the jail.

Previous story: Appalachia gripped by hepatitis C epidemic, bracing for HIV

“Everybody that shoots takes that chance, and 99.9 percent of the people in here do that,” said Ariel Arnold, a Claiborne County jail inmate.

Arnold said in the Claiborne County jail, asking if an inmate takes drugs intravenously is like asking them if they have a last name – pretty much everyone does. She showed us her track marks and says she knows the risks every time she shoots up.

“We all push that aside,” she said. “When you’re on drugs, you push the dangers aside.”

Ariel Arnold showed us her track marks and says she knows the risks every time she shoots up.That’s why Sheriff Ray said the hepatitis C numbers are so high. Between the number of inmates who shoot up and the number of jailhouse tattoos done with things like ballpoint pens and food dye, it’s easy for blood to be transferred. That makes it easy for hepatitis C to come into the jail and spread.

Sheriff Ray said the high numbers he is seeing in his inmates don’t just show a problem in the jail.

“These people that are in my jail are people who committed crimes here in our county,” he said. “If they came from our county, what is out there in our county?”

The sheriff said he is working with the state health department to get treatment into the jail to help curb the spread of the disease. In the meantime, his staff and the rest of the inmates will be tested. Sheriff Ray said he is expecting to see the majority of those tests come back positive. Arnold said she is too – even her own.

Sheriff Ray said he is hoping to have all 250 inmates tested this week. He’s says he’s even going to be tested because he’s worried about the spread of the disease in his jail.

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