The case of Scott Ortiz: a clash between criminal justice and public health

Abstract

The criminal justice system creates particular challenges for persons with HIV and Hepatitis C, many of whom have a history of injection drug use. The case of Scott Ortiz, taken from public trial and sentencing transcripts, reveals the manner in which incarceration may delay learning of important health problems such as Hepatitis C infection. In addition, the case of Mr. Ortiz suggests the bias in sentencing that a former injection drug user may face. Collaboration between the Montefiore Medical Center residency in Social Medicine and a Bronx legal services agency, Bronx Defenders, yielded the discovery that a decade after diagnosis with HIV and after long term incarceration, Mr. Ortiz was infected with Hepatitis C. Mr. Ortiz only became aware of his advanced Hepatitis C and liver damage during his trial. The second important aspect of this case centers on the justification for lengthy sentence for a burglary conviction. The presiding Judge in Mr. Ortiz's case acknowledged that because of his advanced illness, Mr. Ortiz posed no threat to society as a burglar (the crime for which he was convicted). But the Judge elected to use his discretion to sentence Mr. Ortiz to a term of 15 years to life (as opposed to a minimum of two to four years) based on the idea that the public health would be served by preventing Mr. Ortiz from returning to the life of a street addict, sharing dirty needles with others. Mr. Ortiz reports distant injection drug use, no evidence of current or recent drug use was presented during Mr. Ortiz's trial and he reports no injection drug use for over a decade. In this case, bias against a former injection drug user, masquerading as concern for public health, is used to justify a lengthier sentence. Mr. Ortiz's lack of awareness of his Hepatitis C infection despite long term incarceration, combined with the justification for his dramatically increased sentence, provide examples of how persons within the criminal justice system may face particular challenges to their health.

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Cite this paper

@article{Venters2006TheCO, title={The case of Scott Ortiz: a clash between criminal justice and public health}, author={Homer Drae Venters and Asiya M Razvi and Maria S Tobia and Ernest M Drucker}, journal={Harm Reduction Journal}, year={2006}, volume={3}, pages={21 - 21} }