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State Prisoners' Rights to Medical Treatment - Merely Elusive or Wholly Illusory?

NCJ Number
Black Law Journal Volume: 8 Issue: 3 Dated: (Winter 1983) Pages: 427-455
D Martin
Date Published
29 pages
This comment examines inmates' difficulties in having the judiciary enforce their right to medical treatment and proposes ways for prompting the judiciary to make prisoners' rights to medical treatment more enforceable.
A historical review of case law pertaining to inmates' right to medical treatment indicates that as the constitutional bases for prisoners' right to medical treatment expanded, the enforceability of this right was hampered by the 'hands-off' doctrine, which advocates judicial deference to the decisions of correctional administrators. A review of the modern cause of action for interference with an inmate's right to receive medical treatment focuses on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Estelle v. Gamble, which specifies five issues that determine whether an inmate has a legal cause of action in being denied medical treatment. The comment indicates that under the 'Estelle' decision, a cause of action requires that (1) the inmate's medical need was serious, (2) the inmate's health care need was determined by a medical professional, (3) the inmate requested treatment but did not receive it, (4) the treatment rendered was inadequate, and (5) treatment was inadequate or not given due to the 'deliberate indifference' of the responsible corrections official. The comment also considers the rights of State prisoners to medical treatment established under Section 1983 of the Federal Civil Rights Act. The discussion focuses on both isolated incidents of denied medical care and systematic denials attributable to general confinement conditions. Institutional interference with prescribed treatment is also examined. It is concluded that an inmate's constitutional right to medical care should not depend on the state of mind of the prison official who denies the care. A total of 198 footnotes are provided.