Program on Legal and Ethical Issues in Correctional Health

In the Law

The foundation of the constitutional right to healthcare for inmates is built on the Supreme Court's decision in Estelle v. Gamble 429 U.S. 97; 97 S. Ct. 285; 50 L. Ed. 2d 251 (1976) that "deliberate indifference" to a prisoner's health was "cruel and unusual punishment" prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The United States is unique among Western Countries in that it has no general governmental oversight of prisons and jails. Therefore, courts develop the minimum standards for treatment of prisoners. One of the most contested aspects of imprisonments is access to health care. Beginning in the early 1970's the Federal Courts began deciding a series of cases filling in the details of inmates' rights to medical treatment based on the Eighth Amendment. The question of what constitutes "deliberate indifference" is one the federal courts have been answering over the past forty years. In many cases, the conditions were so bad that the courts took over supervision of prisons. It is based on these court decisions that prisoners are the only Americans with a constitutional right to health care.

Confidentiality of Medical Information:

  • Barry v. City of New York, 712 F. 2d 1554 (2d Cir. 1983)
  • Schachter v. Whalen, 581 F. 2d 35 (2d Cir. 1978).
  • Harris v. Thigpen, 941 F. 2d 1495 (11th Cir. Ala. 1991).
  • Green v. Branson, 108 F. 3d 1296 (10th Cir. 1997).
  • United States v. Westinghouse, 638 F. 2d 570 (3d Cir. 1980).
  • Whalen v. Roe, 429 U.S. 589 (1977).

Deliberate Indifference:

  • Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97; 97 S. Ct. 285; 50 L. Ed. 2d 251 (1976).
  • Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825; 114 S. Ct. 1970; 140 L. Ed. 2d 1043 (1994).
  • Laamon v. Helgemoe, 437 F. Supp. 269 (D.N.H. 1977).
  • Riddle v. Mondragon, 83 F. 3d 1197 (10th Cir. NM 1996).
  • Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F. 3d 724 (7th Cir. 2001).

These legal opinions may be found at one or more of the following websites:

In the Law Updates

(In Adobe Acrobat format)

The UTMB Health Institute for the Medical Humanities 301 University Blvd, Primary Care Pavilion Ste 2.301, Galveston TX 77555-1311 (409) 772-2376. Copyright © 2011 The University of Texas Medical Branch. Please review our privacy policy and Internet guidelines.