Criminal Law

Inmate Medical and Mental Health Care Rights

Inmate Medical and Mental Health Care Rights

All prisoners have a right to adequate medical care, mental health care, and equal treatment which is guaranteed by the Constitution and federal law.

Overcrowding, understaffing, and civil rights violations in Arkansas prisons became national news in 1968 when prison superintendent Tom Murton uncovered 3 skeletons at Cummins Unit. Murton’s attempt to reform Arkansas prisons led to firing and exile from the field of prison management.

Fifty years later, Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) still struggles with these issues. Improper medical care for ADC inmates continues to be a problem for many families. As of 2015, Arkansas ranked 2nd in the nation for federal law suits concerning medical and other conditions in the state prison system.

Prisoner medical rights are guaranteed by:

• The Eight Amendment: prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment provides inmates with a right to care
• The Fifth & Fourteenth Amendments: the Due Process Clause provides the same right to detainees awaiting trial
• In Estelle v. Gamble, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that “deliberate indifference to a serious medical need” is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
• The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that requires equal access to services, programs, and activities for inmates with disabilities. This law may be violated if inadequate care or prison policies cause an inmate to be denied access to prison programs or services. An example of ADA discrimination could be denial of work release because of diabetes.

In order to prove that a prisoner’s right to health care has been violated, you’ve got to be able to show the following things:

A “serious medical need” has been diagnosed by a physician.
A medical need is serious if it requires treatment or is so obvious that an average person would easily recognize it needs a doctor’s attention.
A medical need may affect a person’s daily activities or cause intense or chronic pain
Examples of serious medical needs include diabetes, high blood pressure, a need for eyeglasses, and mental health treatment.

Prison officials must be aware of the serious medical condition.
There is no right to medical treatment if no one is aware of the problem.
They are made aware of medical issues by filing sick call slips and seeking treatment.

Prison officials fail to provide adequate care through deliberate indifference.
Deliberate indifference is shown by:

  1. Waiting too long to provide care (longer than reasonable)
  2.  Not providing adequate care (unhelpful or improper treatment) or
  3. Denying medical care or prescribed treatment.

What is adequate care?

Because medical and mental health conditions impact every person differently, appropriate care differs from person to person. This makes documenting medical and mental conditions very important, both when a person is moving into the prison system and during their stay. However, prisons are required to meet the community standard of care. This means they are to provide the same level of care as people in the community.

How can you help your loved one receive adequate medical care in the Arkansas Department of Correction system?

Don’t assume medical staff are aware of all medical conditions or fully understand your loved one’s specific needs.

Requests for “better care” are more likely to be ignored and may not contain enough information to make medical staff aware of a serious medical need.

Make proper, written requests to medical staff by following ADC procedure. Include specific details about your love one’s medical needs, including prescription medication. Document all requests for medical care and detail why the care does not meet legal requirements.

Become familiar with the Arkansas Department of Correction’s care standards. ADC is required to develop standards under Arkansas law (AR Code, medical care of inmates)

File a grievance if medical requests are not addressed properly.
The grievance and appeal process must be followed properly or legal solutions may be limited or unavailable. Be sure you and your loved one are aware of and follow the procedure required by their facility.

The following checklist will help you help inmates with medical issues in the Arkansas Department of Correction.

  1. Verify the right person is listed as the emergency contact in the ADC file.
  2. Make sure you have permission to discuss medical issues with ADC.
  3. Learn more about your loved one’s medical needs.
  4. Keep a medical diary of requests that are fulfilled and those that are not.
  5. Request their previous medical history from outside physicians and have it sent to ADC.
  6. Request their prison medical records maintained by ADC.
    a. It may be difficult and time consuming for an attorney to do this alone.
    b. Work with your loved one (and their attorney, if hired) to complete this request from the inside.
  7. If you engage an attorney, be sure that visitation, phone calls and access to inmate medical records are established as soon as possible.

At Wilson and Haubert, we have experience dealing with inmate medical issues, and we’re here to help your loved one receive proper medical care.

If you feel that your loved one is not receiving proper medical treatment, call us today so we can get started protecting their access to medical care.

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