Medical care is obviously a critical resource which all of us rely on throughout our lives, for ourselves and for our family members, so much so that basic medical care could arguably be considered a human right. In any case, basic medical care is at least a constitutional right guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment. This right is applicable whether or not the medical care is provided directly by employees of the government or by medical staff contracting with the government.
From the perspective of constitutional law, medical neglect of a prisoner must meet a certain threshold before it can be considered a constitutional violation. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, prison officials must specifically display “deliberate indifference” to a prisoner’s “serious medical needs.”
Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs can include a variety of scenarios, including: failure to provide treatment for diagnosed conditions; delaying treatment; interfering with a prisoner’s access to treatment; ignoring an obvious medical condition; failure to investigate a prisoner’s medical condition enough to make an informed judgment about the correct course of action; and making medical decisions based on non-medical factors.
For prisoners, enforcing the right to adequate medical care is, unfortunately, not always as speedy as it needs to be. That being said, the remedies for enforcing this right vary between state prisoners and federal prisoners. For either, there is the possibility of pursuing a tort action, but there is also the possibility of pursuing a civil rights action. In our next post, we’ll look at these remedies and their relative advantages and disadvantages.
Columbia Human Rights Law Review, “A Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual: Chapter 23: Your Right to Adequate Medical Care,” Eighth Edition, 2009.
American Civil Liberties Union, “Medical Care in Prison,” Accessed Feb. 18, 2015.