Legal Case

Beyond Estelle: Medical Rights for Incarcerated Patients

Like most other individuals, prisoners sometimes need medical attention for ailments, injuries and diseases. However, there appears to be a misconception about prisoners’ medical rights among physicians, medical administrators, prison and jail staff, and law enforcement officials. This article will review some of the medical rights and court rulings that are pertinent to prisoners, including issues such as medical decision-making, medical information privacy, force-feeding and forcible medical procedures.

Ramos v. Lamm

My decision was appealed by defendants to the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The court of appeals affirmed my conclusion that the plaintiffs’ Eighth Amendment rights had been violated “in the areas of shelter, sanitation, food, safety, and medical care,” and that plaintiffs’ constitutional rights of access to the courts had been violated as well. Ramos v. Lamm, 639 *1062 F.2d 559, 586 (10th Cir. 1980). In addition, the court of appeals sustained the ruling holding invalid certain restrictions on inmate correspondence, but overturned my holding that certain visitation regulations were unconstitutional. Id. The court of appeals vacated “the provisions of the district court’s remedial order on motility, classification and idleness.” Id. Specifically, the court of appeals concluded that “the present record and the findings on the subjects do not warrant the court’s broad remedial orders” and did not establish an independent violation of the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 567.

Estelle v. Gamble

Respondent state inmate brought this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against petitioners, the state corrections department medical director (Gray) and two correctional officials, claiming that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment for inadequate treatment of a back injury assertedly sustained while he was engaged in prison work. The District Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The Court of Appeals held that the alleged insufficiency of the medical treatment required reinstatement of the complaint.