CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Armstrong on Prison Medical Deaths and Qualified Immunity

Andrea C. Armstrong (Loyola University New Orleans College of Law) has posted Prison Medical Deaths and Qualified Immunity (112 J. Crim. L. And Criminology 79 (2022)) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The defense of qualified immunity for claims seeking monetary damages for constitutionally inadequate medical care for people who are incarcerated is misguided. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, medical illness is the leading cause of death of people incarcerated in prisons and jails across the United States. Qualified immunity in these cases limits accountability for carceral actors, thereby limiting incentives for improvements in the delivery of constitutionally adequate medical care. The qualified immunity defense also compounds other existing barriers, such as higher subjective intent standards and the Prison Litigation Reform Act, to asserting legal accountability of prison and jail administrators. In addition, the defense is not appropriate because medical care decisions by carceral actors are fundamentally different than traditional qualified immunity cases. Traditional qualified immunity cases usually involve discretionary decisions that are one-off, emergency, binary choices made by a single actor or unit of actors. In contrast, medical decisions in carceral settings are often serial, ongoing, and usually involve multiple decision makers, sometimes acting beyond their area of expertise.
These significant differences between medical decisions in carceral settings and traditional qualified immunity decisions illustrate the practical difficulties for incarcerated plaintiffs and their families in holding prisons accountable for violating the U.S. Constitution. Recent developments refining the doctrine may lessen the negative impact of the defense on these civil rights claims, but they also do not address the core disconnect between the rationales justifying qualified immunity and its application in cases of severe injury or death from inadequate carceral healthcare.

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No discussion whatsoever of derivative sovereign immunity. No discussion whatsoever of the significant difficulties that the removal of qualified immunity from prison contractors providing medical care would create for correctional facilities. Simply not liking something is not reason enough to do away with it. No one will provide medical care if they will be sued every time some litigious inmate is unhappy with the result of their medical care- if you don't believe me, try suing your own doctor after every checkup, then see how long that doctor is willing to treat you. That is the dynamic this article proposes to create at a national, institutional level- the complete deprivation of medical care to all inmates because no one wants to risk getting sued by providing it.

Posted by: Concerned Citizen | Feb 21, 2022 5:04:48 AM

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