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Constitutional Dimensions of an Inmate's Right to Health Care

NCJ Number
S L Kay
Date Published
27 pages
This monograph provides legal, correctional, and correctional health services professionals a practical reference to the law as it applies to correctional health care settings.
An overview of Federal constitutional requirements for inmate health care notes that in analyzing conditions of confinement, including medical care, the courts have distinguished between the rights of pretrial detainees and the rights of convicted persons. The treatment of convicted prisoners is governed by the Eighth Amendment, and treatment of pretrial detainees is governed by the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The monograph explains the conditions under which inmate health care or the lack of it violate Federal constitutional requirements. Failure to respond adequately to serious inmate medical needs and a deliberate indifference to inmate health care violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. A section on inmate health care issues in inmate class action litigation focuses on court cases pertinent to a minimally adequate health care system, personnel, medical records, procedures, facilities, dental care, mental health, communicable diseases and AIDS, women's health care issues, and physically handicapped inmates. A section on individual issues addresses the right to refuse medical treatment, communicable diseases, starvation, and the confidentiality of medical records. In summary, the monograph advises that the constitutional minimum for inmate health care is to treat and prevent serious health care problems quickly and efficiently. Failure to meet this standard may result in civil liability. 19 notes and 15 appended annotated relevant court cases