By Gregory Muhammad

On December 18, 2015 the NOI Prison Reform Ministry Delaware Valley Region members were present at Mumia Abu-Jamal’s evidentiary hearing held in Scranton, Pennsylvania to address his right to receive a new direct-acting, anti-viral drug to treat his Hepatitis C.

This hearing has the potential to uplift the identities of 10,000 other Pennsylvania inmates suffering from the disease. This writer has first-hand experience of being refused life-saving treatment while incarcerated because of cost.

Prisoner lives don’t matter when cost is put before treatment, actually, regardless to what kind of treatment is needed.  


Mumia Abu-Jamal, an activist and journalist, was given the death penalty after being convicted in the death of a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. He is believed to be innocent by supporters in America and worldwide.

Worldwide support intensified the struggle with prayer, letters, and protests that pushed the court to commute the death sentence to a life sentence. The courtroom was full to capacity on December 18, 2015 with many supporters leading a protest outside of the courtroom demanding Mumia’s release.

It was a blessing to see so many that came out in support of Mumia receiving medical treatment for his Hepatitis C infection. This protest went on while the hearing was underway on the inside of the courtroom. We believe it was the moral support and prayers that saved Mumia’s life earlier this year.

The lawyers handling Mumia’s lawsuit presented a very strong case. It appears that U.S. District Court Judge Mariani will give Mumia a fair hearing.

Mumia’s supporters believe that Judge Mariani is demonstrating his humanity and upholding the U.S. Constitution. Remember, Mumia is suing the Department of Corrections and doctors at SCI-Mahanoy for intentional medical neglect and malpractice, violations of his 8th Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

On the first day of the hearing, nearly 80 people packed the main courtroom where the evidentiary hearing was being held.

Dozens more watched the proceedings in an overflow room.

Around 20 people maintained an all-day demonstration outside in the cold, handing out fliers and explaining what was happening in the court to Scranton residents passing by.

If Mumia is successful in winning his case, it will set a precedent that can potentially help Hepatitis C infected prisoners throughout Pennsylvania and other states.

The International Family & Friends of Mumia presented these facts, “Hepatitis C Who has it? Who gets cured?” Around 170 million people globally are chronically infected with Hepatitis C virus (HCV). In the U.S. an estimated 3.2 million people have chronic Hepatitis C infection–40,000 in Philadelphia. Left untreated, HVC causes liver disease and other complications that kill 35,000 to 500,000 people every year. Most people won’t feel ill or even know they are infected until it’s too late, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Federal and state prisons, while routinely screening for HIV, do not test for Hepatitis C.

In Pennsylvania alone, it’s estimated 8,000 prisoners have HCV. Prisoners returning to their communities upon release unknowingly contribute to the spread of this disease, a major cause of death in many Black and poor communities.

In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the new direct-acting antiviral drug Sovaldi with a 90 percent cure rate for HCV. The catch? According to Rachel Wolkenstein, Gilead Sciences set the price so high few could afford it. Gilead charged $84,000 ($1,000 per pill) for a 12-week course of treatment, she said. The company later introduced Sovaldi’s successor Harvoni at $94,500 per treatment course. Because of this hefty price tag less than 2.4 percent of 700,000 Medicaid enrollees with HCV received the new cure, according to Ms. Wolkenstein. Few prisoners are allowed to receive these drugs. This has resulted in several lawsuits on behalf of prisoners including one filed by Pennsylvania political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal, who was diagnosed with complications resulting from HCV but was denied the new drugs.

A federal Senate study determined that even though Gilead knew their exorbitant prices would deny treatment for millions and create serious financial burdens for Medicare and Medicaid, the company still went ahead, say detractors. Gilead projected $20.6 billion in revenues from U.S. sales of Sovaldi and Harvoni for 21 months following the drugs’ introduction, added Ms. Wolkenstein.

The Justice Or Else! movement continues forever and ever! Onward ever, backwards never!

(Gregory Muhammad is the Nation of Islam student regional prison reform minister for the Delaware Valley Region.)