Deliberate Indifference and Inmates’ Civil Rights

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The courts apply the deliberate indifference standard to determine if supervising jail or correctional officials have violated an inmate’s civil rights

Deliberate Indifference and Inmates’ Civil Rights

The courts apply the deliberate indifference standard to determine if supervising jail or correctional officials have violated an inmate’s civil rights; thus, it occurs when prison employees, including correctional staff, medical staff like nurses, physician’s assistants and doctors know of and disregard an excessive risk to an inmate’s health or safety. See Crayton v. Quarterman, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103709 (N.D. Tex. Oct. 14, 2009). Although, it is difficult to determine what acts or omissions constitute deliberate indifference, courts have recognized numerous factual situations where deliberate indifference exists. For example, deliberately refusing to respond to an inmate’s complaints has been recognized as deliberate indifference. It has been also acknowledged that correctional officials who act with deliberate indifference to the inmates’ safety violate the Eighth Amendment if they are aware that they are creating a substantial risk of bodily harm to the inmates.

The inmate brought a civil rights action asserting that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment for inadequate treatment of a back injury

The Inmate in Solitary Confinement

Moreover, the Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment and traditionally had been applied only to cases where excessive punishment was at issue, such as execution or torture. After hearing the case Estelle v. Gamble; the court reclassified the constitutional concept of punishment. Here, an inmate was injured when a bale of cotton fell on him while he was unloading a truck as part of a prison work duty. He continued to work but after four hours he became stiff and was granted a pass to the prison hospital. At the unit hospital, a medical prison assistant examined the inmate and sent him back to his cell. Subsequently, the pain intensified; then, he went back to the hospital and was given pain pills by an inmate nurse; and then, he was examined by a correctional doctor and the inmate was diagnosed with a lower back injury. He was given a bed rest pass for two days, which was extended for another seven days and so on. For almost a month and despite his complains, he was taken off cell pass and certified to be capable of prison work. When the inmate refused to return to work as he was in too much pain, he was placed in segregation and brought before a prison disciplinary committee. Once the committee heard his complaint of back pain and high blood pressure; it directed the inmate to be seen by another doctor. After examination, the correctional doctor testified that the inmate was in first class medical condition, the committee with no further medical examination or testimony placed the inmate in solitary confinement where he again experienced chest pain that went untreated for four days despite requests to the guards for treatment. When he was seen by another doctor, he was diagnosed with irregular cardiac rhythm.

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After that, the inmate brought a civil rights action asserting that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment for inadequate treatment of a back injury sustained while he was performing prison work. Although, the District Court dismissed the complaint; the Court of Appeals held that deliberate indifference by prison personnel to a prisoner’s serious illness or injury constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Therefore, according to the Supreme Court, the government has a duty to provide prisoner’s with medical care since the failure to provide medical care rises to the level of torture as it may actually cause the type of physical pain or death, which may also be perceived as cruel and unusual punishment that is exactly what the Eighth Amendment is intended to prevent. Finally, to constitute an Eighth Amendment violation for inadequate medical care there must be both an objectively serious medical condition and deliberate indifference to that condition. Estelle v. Gamble.

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