The U.S. Constitution requires prison officials to provide all state and federal prisoners and pretrialdetainees (people in jail waiting for trial) with adequate medical care.
If you think your right to medicalcare might have been violated, this Chapter will help you determine whether you have a legal claim forwhich you can get
.Part B of this Chapter explains your right to medical care under the federal Constitution and state law.Part C gives specific examples of health care categories for which you might have rights to medical care(diagnosed conditions, elective procedures, psychiatric care, exposure to second-hand smoke, and dentalcare). Part D is about special medical issues for women prisoners, including the right to basic medical andgynecological care, abortions, and accommodations for pregnant women. Part E talks about your right toreceive information about your medical treatment before being treated and your right to keep your medicalinformation confidential in prison. Part F explains the possible ways to seek relief in state and federal courtsif your rights have been violated.This Chapter will focus on federal law and some New York State laws. If you are a state prisoner, yourright to adequate medical care might also be protected by your state’s
The New York Correction Law
and the Official Compilation of Codes, Rules, and Regulations of the State of New York explain the right to adequate medical care for New York State prisoners. If you are in prison inanother state, be sure to research the law in that state.The rights of prisoners with mental illnesses, infectious diseases, or disabilities present special issuesnot included in this Chapter. For more information about the rights of prisoners with mental healthconcerns, see Chapter 29 of the
, “Special Issues for Prisoners with Mental Illness.” For moreinformation about the rights of prisoners with infectious diseases (and the rights of prisoners to avoidexposure to infectious diseases), see Chapter 26 of the
, “Infectious Diseases: AIDS, Hepatitis, andTuberculosis in Prisons.” For more information on the rights of prisoners with disabilities, see Chapter 28 of the
, “Rights of Prisoners with Disabilities.”It is important that you speak up about any medical issue that you might have. If you end up going tocourt to pursue your right to adequate medical care, a judge will ask for evidence that you tried to obtainmedical care in a variety of ways within the prison first. To prove a claim of
(meaning that youtried administrative remedies before going to court) you must show that you properly pursued the grievanceprocedure of the prison system. Additionally, if you bring a claim of “deliberate indifference” (discussed inPart B(1)), recording any requests for care or complaints made to guards and medical care professionals canhelp lay the groundwork for this claim. Keeping a record will also allow you to show that the defendants(prisons or prison guards) were aware of your medical problems (the “subjective component,” discussed inPart B(1)(b)). The requirements for proving a defendant’s personal involvement are more complicated. Besure to make the prison officials around you aware of your health concerns as soon as they arise, anddocument any attempts you made through the proper channels to receive your desired medical care.
* This Chapter was revised by Priya Cariappa, based in part on previous versions by Erin LaFarge, Leah Threatte,Helen Respass, Pamela Addison, Susan Kraham, Gail Huggins, Erik Moulding-Johnson, Emmanuella Souffrant, andRichard F. Storrow. This Chapter was generally informed by John Boston’s very helpful “Overview of Prisoners’ Rights”(Updated for Second Circuit, Staff Attorneys Orientation, September 26, 2006). Special thanks to Milton Zelermyer of the Prisoners’ Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society for his helpful comments.1
Spicer v. Williamson, 191 N.C. 487, 490, 132 S.E. 291, 293 (1926) (“It is but just that the public be requiredto care for the prisoner, who cannot by reason of the deprivation of his liberty, care for himself.”).2.As a state prisoner, you may bring a suit under either state law or federal law. See Part F(1) of this Chapter fora discussion of your options.3.N.Y. Correct. Law § 45(3) (McKinney 2003 & Supp. 2009) (detailing the responsibilities of the Commission of Corrections, including the duty to “visit, inspect and appraise the management of correctional facilities with specificattention to matters such as safety, security, health of inmates, sanitary conditions” and other things that affect aprisoner’s well-being).