A prison inmate may have a large number of issues with his or her treatment during incarceration. The seriousness of the issues exist along a spectrum. Many such issues may constitute a violation of civil rights. However, Collins & Collins, P.C. limits our involvement in civil rights cases to those involving serious personal injury or wrongful death.
Serious injury or wrongful death can occur from a range of negligent behaviors on the part of the detention facility including negligent medical care, failure to provide medical care, excessive force by detention personnel, sexual assault at the hands of detention personnel, failure to protect inmates from assault by other inmates to name just a few. Each of these may lead to both civil rights claims and tort claims against the responsible parties.
Cruel and Unusual Punishment Under the 8th and 14th Amendment
When mistreatment is severe, prisoners may bring a claim under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act for violations of the Eighth Amendment or Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Eighth Amendment applies to claims by convicted prisoners, while the Fourteenth Amendment applies to claims by pretrial detainees.
Deliberate Indifference Required
In order to succeed in a suit against a prison, the inmate must show that the actions of the prison or its personnel were “deliberately indifferent.” This is a higher standard than simple negligence. In fact, even gross negligence is not enough to support a claim under either the Eighth Amendment or Fourteenth Amendment. Deliberate indifference requires the prison officials to make a deliberate choice to do or not do something. This might include intentionally abusing an inmate without cause.
The deliberate indifference standard makes the bar significantly higher for civil rights cases for jail and prison abuse neglect substantially higher than outside this setting. More will be discussed in later pages on these issues but to illustrate, we will provide a couple of examples.
Medical Negligence in Jails and Prisons
The best example for illustration purposes is the provision of necessary medical care. However, the same standard of deliberate indifference applies across a number of areas where inmates are needlessly harmed. The medical care issue is important since many inmates come to the facility with potentially life threatening medical conditions. These range from diabetes and heart disease to withdrawal from alcohol and other dangerous narcotics.
Clearly, the facility has the duty to provide adequate medical care in these situations. However, for that duty to arise, the facility must be on notice of the conditions. Standard intake procedures generally include an inquiry into medical conditions. Failure to conduct an inquiry may in some cases (deliberately indifferent) give rise to a claim if the inmate is later harmed. Failure to note and pass on information regarding medical conditions despite reporting by the inmate will also give rise to possible claims. Failure to provide medical care once the condition is known will almost certainly meet the deliberate indifference standard. However, there are situations where the facility did everything right and yet did not learn of the conditions such as where the inmate actively conceals the information.
The medical care example illustrates the issue for a variety of claims This would include sexual or physical assault by other inmates. The standard basically requires actual knowledge of a threat to the inmate‘s safety along with a deliberate failure to protect the inmate. It is not enough that the facility or its personnel should have known. There must be evidence that it did in fact know of the dangers.
Deadlines are Running
This may seem like a impossible bar. However, the facility cannot rely on deliberate ignorance of the facts. In many if not most cases, there will be sufficient evidence to show actual knowledge of a prisoner‘s medical conditions or other threats to his or her safety.
These cases are complicated and difficult. There are important deadlines that apply. If you or a loved one has suffered serious injuries or wrongful death as a result of incarceration, it is very important to contact an attorney experienced in civil rights claims so that your possible claims can be evaluated as quickly as possible.
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