Health care is a civil right for inmates and must be provided to prisoners because they cannot arrange for their own medical care. Too often this right is not respected. When a person is incarcerated, he or she loses many of the ordinary freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. However, incarcerated persons retain the right under the Eighth Amendment to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, and may sue prison officials when their rights are violated. The standard against which prison officials’ behavior is judged is called “deliberate indifference.” 

In Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994), the United States Supreme Court required prisons to provide adequate medical care because “[a]n inmate must rely on prison authorities to treat his medical needs; if the authorities fail to do so, those needs will not be met.” The Court explained that to deny such care could result in “pain and suffering which no one suggests would serve any penological purpose.”

The United States Supreme Court described the elements of deliberate indifference in Farmer. To recover for injuries caused by a prison official’s deliberate indifference, an inmate must prove:  “the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference. . . .” In other words, the prison officials must have had actual knowledge of an “excessive risk of harm” to an inmate, have the power to correct the problem, and then failed to correct it. Mere negligence, or not acting in a reasonable manner, by a prison official towards an inmate is not enough to meet this standard. 

When an inmate is denied appropriate medical care, they may have a deliberate indifference claim if the denial of medical care has harmed an inmate or created an excessive risk of harm. Prison officials are required to provide “adequate” medical care to all inmates by the Eighth Amendment. When medical treatment is refused for no medical reason, or for a non-medical reason, an inmate may have a deliberate indifference claim. However, a mere difference of opinion between the staff and inmate as to how to treat a condition is not enough to support a claim. 

Deliberate indifference exists, for example: where prison authorities deny reasonable requests for medical treatment ... and such denial exposes the inmate to undue suffering or the threat of tangible residual injury; where knowledge of the need for medical care is accompanied by the intentional refusal to provide that care where necessary medical treatment is delayed for non-medical reasons; where prison officials erect arbitrary and burdensome procedures that “result in interminable delays and outright denials of medical care to suffering inmates; where prison officials condition provision of needed medical services on the inmate's ability or willingness to pay; where prison officials deny access to a physician capable of evaluating the need for treatment of a serious medical need; and where the prison official persists in a particular course of treatment ‘in the face of resultant pain and risk of permanent injury.’”

If you or someone you know has been denied medical treatment while incarcerated, please contact the Mizner Law Firm at or call 814.454.3889 to learn how we may be able to assist you.