Monday, November 23, 2009
The American Constitution Society (Chicago Lawyer Chapter and John Marshall Law School Student Chapter) and the ACLU hosted a panel discussion on health care in prisons last week titled Health Care Behind Bars: Are Inmates' Health Care Needs Being Met? The panel featured Judge Easterbrook (7th Cir.), Dr. Michael Puisis (Cermak Health Services), and Benjamin Wolf (ACLU) in a lively discussion about the constitutional rights to health care of prisoners.
The recording is here.
Prisoners, by virtue of their incarceration and dependency on the state, have a right to health care under the Eighth Amendment. The Court wrote in Estelle v. Gamble:
These elementary [Eighth Amendment] principles establish the government's obligation to provide medical care for those whom it is punishing by incarceration. An inmate must rely on prison authorities to treat his medical needs; if the authorities fail to do so, those needs will not be met. In the worst cases, such a failure may actually produce physical "torture or a lingering death" . . . the evils of most immediate concern to the drafters of the Amendment. In less serious cases, denial of medical care may result in pain and suffering which no one suggests would serve any penological purpose. . . . The infliction of such unnecessary suffering is inconsistent with contemporary standards of decency as manifested in modern legislation codifying the common-law view that "[i]t is but just that the public be required to care for the prisoner, who cannot by reason of the deprivation of his liberty, care for himself."
The panel conversation at one point (around 40:00 in the recording) turned to the nature of negative (not positive) rights in our constitutional tradition and the state's obligations to provide care and protection (or not) to those in its custody (or not) under DeShaney v. Winnebago.
The discussion added a dimension to my own lessons on DeShaney and Castle Rock v. Gonzales. Perhaps you can use it, too.