1991 - Blood money 

In March 1991, Times reporter Mara Leveritt revealed the Arkansas Department of Correction's dirty little secret: inmate plasma sales. After passing a few blood tests, prisoners were paid $7 per visit to lie in one of the ADC's two gymnasium-sized plasmapheresis centers and bleed out their valuable plasma. Since inmates are not paid for their prison jobs, plasma was the only legal way for them to make money to spend on extras like toiletries. The program was a small windfall for the department as well, helping the ADC retain one of the lowest average inmate-cost-per-day figures in the nation. By 1991, Arkansas was the last state selling plasma from its prison population. The market for prisoner plasma - largely hemophiliacs needing its clotting factor - was drying up in the United States, thanks to warnings by the National Hemophilia Foundation and the federal Food and Drug Administration that the blood, coming from a population that included a high percentage of intravenous drug users and people with a proclivity for high-risk sexual contact, was likely unsafe. Still, the ADC kept on tapping veins. Stopping the program - and its flow of needed cash to prisoners - would lead to prostitution and crime in the prison walls, inmates warned. Besides, the ADC insisted, prisoner plasma was as safe as that gathered from the general public, maybe even safer. "We have complete medical histories on every one of these people," said John Byus, the ADC's medical director. "Even the Red Cross can't say that. And we do a complete screening every time an individual goes in to donate." Such official assurances hadn't done much to boost confidence. Nevada and Louisiana had stopped their plasma operations in 1990, and with U.S. markets all but closed, the Arkansas Department of Corrections actively sought customers from abroad, working through international brokers to sell plasma in Europe, South America and Asia. "We plan to stick with it to the last day," said John Byus. "To the last drop we're able to sell." The last drop came in 1994, but not before the tragedy groups like the Hemophilia Foundation had warned of came to pass. By the time the ADC stabbed its last, tens of thousands of hemophiliacs around the globe had learned they were infected with hepatitis and AIDS. Subsequent panels and commissions worldwide would lay the blame on prison plasma, specifically that produced by the ADC, where shoddy record keeping and testing allowed infected prisoners to give blood that was then pooled with non-infected donations, tainting world supplies. Particularly hard-hit was Canada, which served as the distribution point for more than 4,800 questionable units of plasma from Arkansas and Louisiana prisons in the 1980s. Canada's 1993 Krever Inquiry found in one case that 38 units of plasma infected with hepatitis C were shipped from Cummins Prison to a lab in Montreal, eventually finding their way into the veins of hemophiliacs in Canada, Switzerland, Spain, Japan and Italy. Other infected lots, a subsequent investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police revealed, were shipped to France, China, England, Morocco, Israel, Portugal, Argentina, Germany and Greece. Eventually, the Krever inquiry found that the Canadian Red Cross hadn't adequately monitored the country's blood supply, and the group was eventually relieved from that long-held duty. The Canadian government eventually set aside $1.2 billion for those infected with hepatitis C by tainted blood, and in 1999, a group of Canadian hemophiliacs filed a $660 million lawsuit against the companies that distributed the tainted plasma in Canada. A criminal investigation into the tainted blood scandal is ongoing in that country.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Arkansas Times Staff

Readers also liked…

Most Shared

  • Issue 3: blank check

    Who could object to a constitutional amendment "concerning job creation, job expansion and economic development," which is the condensed title for Issue 3 for Arkansas voters on Nov. 8?
  • Little Rock police kill man downtown

    Little Rock police responding to a disturbance call near Eighth and Sherman Streets about 12:40 a.m. killed a man with a long gun, Police Chief Kenton Buckner said in an early morning meeting with reporters.
  • From the mind of Sol LeWitt: Crystal Bridges 'Loopy Doopy': A correction

    Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is installing Sol Lewitt's 70-foot eye-crosser "Wall Drawing 880: Loopy Doopy," waves of complementary orange and green, on the outside of the Twentieth Century Gallery bridge. You can glimpse painters working on it from Eleven, the museum's restaurant, museum spokeswoman Beth Bobbitt said
  • Ted Suhl loses another bid for new trial; faces stiff sentencing recommendation

    Ted Suhl, the former operator of residential and out-patient mental health services, has lost a second bid to get a new trial on his conviction for paying bribes to influence state Human Services Department policies. Set for sentencing Thursday, Suhl faces a government request for a sentence up to almost 20 years. He argues for no more than 33 months.
  • Football and foster kids

    It took a football stadium to lay bare Republican budget hypocrisy in Arkansas.

Latest in Cover Stories

Visit Arkansas

Jodi Morris's lifelong ties to the National Park Service

Jodi Morris's lifelong ties to the National Park Service

"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Leslie Rutledge, the absent attorney general

    Arkansas loses out to Trump love, Obama hate.
  • Thanks!

    In less than two weeks, We the People are about to roll the dice and elect our next president. Just enough time left to dash off a few well-deserved thank you notes ... .
  • 'Living legend'

    Union Pacific's No. 844 steam locomotive made its way through the North Little Rock train yard on Oct. 24. The 907,980 pound train was the last steam locomotive made for Union Pacific and is amid a 1,200 mile journey that will end in Cheyenne, Wyo. on Oct. 31. This is the first multi-state excursion for the locomotive since completion of a three yearlong restoration.
  • Left and right against Issue 3

    Also, Huck spinning on Trump, not in our backyard and more.

Most Recent Comments


© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation