Court Rules Inmate Must Pay For Health Care During Hunger Strike

By Elizabeth Daley

PITTSBURGH, July 13 (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania court on Monday rejected an inmate's claim that he was not responsible for paying for medical treatment that the state forced on him while he was staging a prison hunger strike.

Dwayne Hill, 45, is serving a life sentence for a 1992 Philadelphia murder conviction and has staged hunger strikes since 2006, missing meals for two weeks during one episode, according to court documents.

Medical treatment for prisoners is usually free in Pennsylvania, but Department of Corrections rules allow the commonwealth to deduct a $5 co-pay from inmate's prison accounts for every medical treatment administered for self-inflicted injuries or illnesses.

The three-judge panel from Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court rejected Hill's claim that forcing him to pay for treatment he received during his hunger strikes violated his constitutional rights. The court also rejected his claim that the multiple charges the state deducted were excessive.

In 2010 court papers, Hill said that he staged hunger strikes in the past to protest what he said was the Department of Correction's abuse of solitary confinement.

The inmate contended that prison officials use isolation cells to break a prisoner's will to resist conditions that were "sub-human, degrading and illegal."

Hill has also said he was mentally ill in a different set of legal documents.

In the court opinion, Judge Dan Pellegrini wrote that charging prisoners a co-pay for treatment in conjunction with self-inflicted injury was in line with Department of Corrections procedures.

Hill represented himself in the case.

In January, the state settled a lawsuit by agreeing to keep mentally ill inmates from being locked in solitary confinement and to provide enhanced mental health checks for inmates put in isolation.

It is unclear how much money Hill was charged for his treatment. Representatives from the Department of Corrections were not available for comment.

Hill is confined at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, just outside State College. (Reporting by Frank McGurty)