Black Inmates Denied Medical Release Due To 'Race-Based Discrimination'

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A decades-old, race-based medical formula that scores kidney function has been thrown out by major medical systems but is still being used by judges to keep Black people in prison, New York Times reports.

Kidney test scores for African Americans have historically been adjusted based on an old formula that puts more Black people on the healthy side of the threshold. Judges use these race-adjusted kidney scores to decide if Black inmates get released early due to medical reasons.

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, over 20,000 people have sought early medical release from prison due to the pandemic. While thousands have been freed in the process, the race-based medical formula used to determine kidney health is serving as a barrier for Black prisoners.

The New York Times reports that Maurice McPhatter, a 40-year-old Black inmate, suffered from kidney problems that made him especially susceptible to COVID-19. Despite blood tests that concluded that Mcphatter's kidney function was low, a federal judge denied his request for early release because he employed the old, race-adjusted medical formula.

Lab Corp, the Department of Veteran Affairs, and many other hospital systems no longer use the race-adjusted formula. Experts say this formula can lead to misdiagnoses and inequitable medical care for Black people, according to the New York Times.

Jonte Robinson, a black federal prisoner, filed a lawsuit ordering the Bureau of Prisons to stop adjusting the kidney function scores of Black inmates. 

Robinson’s lawyer said in a statement, “Adjusting the kidney-function scores of Black prisoners amounts to “race-based discrimination.”

The Bureau of Prisons spokesperson Randilee Giamusso said they are “in the process of transitioning” to a race-blind formula.“We anticipate that the transition will be completed in the next few months,” GIamusso added. 

For years, kidney function has been in part determined by creatinine levels — a higher amount of creatinine in the body meant the kidneys were struggling and resulted in lower kidney test scores. Since studies indicated that African American adults tended to have higher levels of creatinine than their white counterparts, researchers created the race-based formula giving Black people higher kidney function scores.

However, kidney experts have argued that the higher score, which was supposed to more accurately represent Black kidney function, actually masks kidney disease and prevents Black patients from getting on a kidney transplant list.

Last year, Robinson's lawyer filed an appeal calling out the race-based medical formula.

“If Mr. Robinson were white his medical data would indicate that he was suffering from chronic kidney disease,” the lawyer said.

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