An Inmate’s Access to Health Care Is Mandatory by Law

Providing an inmate’s access to health care – adequate health care, to be more specific – is not only the socially responsible thing to do, it’s mandatory by law. In fact, there are only two groups of individuals who have the constitutionally guaranteed right to access medical care:

  • Individuals remanded to mental health facilities, and
  • Individuals arrested or incarcerated in prisons, jails, and community correctional or juvenile facilities.

Why are these two groups afforded rights that common everyday citizens are not? The concept behind such rights stems from the fact that we, society, have taken their rights of freedom through arrest and incarceration. Therefore, we, society, have taken on the duty for their safety by virtue of our exercising care, custody, and control over these groups.

Both Officers and Jailers Must Know their Duty Concerning the Health Care of Those Under Their Control

Law enforcement, correctional, and jail personnel must understand their duty concerning health care of the individuals under their control. If an officer or jailer knows, or should have known, that an individual under their control has a serious medical need and they fail to obtain medical services for that individual, they have violated the individual’s constitutional rights and maybe held civilly and criminally liable. The Courts have ruled that such denial of access to medical care is deliberately indifferent to the constitutional rights of the incarcerated individual.

Correctional and jail personnel will experience these medical issues more so than law enforcement personnel; however, law enforcement officers still need to be cognizant of these medical issues once they take an individual into custody.

Access to Healthcare Is a Common Issue in Correctional Facilities

The issue of providing inmates access to health care is not new to prison and jail operations functioning in the 21st century. Most prison and jail administrators deal with providing inmate’s access to health care on a daily basis.

In addition, prison and jail administrators are trained that their actions toward the inmate population must comport to the constitutional rights of the inmates as guaranteed by the 4th, 8th, and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Inmate’s access to health care falls within these parameters and courts have held that denial of access to medical care constitutes deliberate indifference to an inmate’s civil rights. Jail and correction officers know, and are trained, that to be considered deliberately indifferent to an inmate’s serious medical needs requires that the corrections officer knew, or had reason to reasonably know, that a serious medical condition existed, and that the jail personnel failed to provide medical attention.

Courts, such as the U.S. Supreme Court in Estelle v Gamble, have ruled that:

“…deliberate indifference to a prisoner’s suffering can constitute cruel and unusual punishment.” 

In so doing, the Court also established the appropriate standard for § 1983 claims in the prison context.  The standard must be “deliberate indifference” so that ordinary medical malpractice is not found as a constitutional violation.

Inmates’ Access to Health Care Should Be Covered in Policies & Procedures

When dealing with inmates’ access to health care issues, prison and jail administrators are finding that not only are the actions of staff questioned in these situations, but the agency’s policies and procedures are often criticized, as well.  To protect the agency and staff, many administrations have chosen to train security staff to leave the medical determinations to the licensed medial professionals and limit their involvement to reporting the incident to, and following the directions provided by, the medical personnel that provide the care.

Do You Need Better Polices & Procedures?

Agencies without written policies or documented procedures, or those looking to improve their written documentation, can find well written and trial tested policies and procedures sets via OSS Law Enforcement Advisors. These can be adapted to fit an agency’s specific needs and requirements.

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