Background: Despite national guidelines promoting hepatitis C virus (HCV) testing in prisons, there is substantial heterogeneity on the implementation of HCV testing in jails. We sought to better understand barriers and opportunities for HCV testing by interviewing a broad group of stakeholders involved in HCV testing and treatment policies and procedures in Massachusetts jails.
Methods: We conducted semi-structured interviews with people incarcerated in Middlesex County Jail (North Billerica, MA), clinicians working in jail and community settings, corrections administrators, and representatives from public health, government, and industry between November 2018-April 2019.
Results: 51/120 (42%) of people agreed to be interviewed including 21 incarcerated men (mean age 32 [IQR 25, 39], 60% non-White). Themes that emerged from these interviews included gaps in knowledge about HCV testing and treatment opportunities in jail, the impact of captivity and transience, and interest in improving linkage to HCV care after release. Many stakeholders discussed stigma around HCV infection as a factor in reluctance to provide HCV testing or treatment in the jail setting. Some stakeholders expressed that stigma often led decisionmakers to estimate a lower "worth" of incarcerated individuals living with HCV and therefore to decide against paying for HCV testing.".
Conclusion: All stakeholders agreed that HCV in the jail setting is a public health issue that needs to be addressed. Exploring stakeholders' many ideas about how HCV testing and treatment can be approached is the first step in developing feasible and acceptable strategies.