Chicago Case Reinforces Prisoners’ Rights to Adequate Medical Care

Whether a person is arrested on felony crimes charges or misdemeanor drug crimes, he or she is entitled to adequate medical care when detained in jail. The constitution guarantees persons detained in jail or prison to adequate medical care under the Eighth Amendment’s provisions against cruel and unusual punishment.

In stark contrast to these constitutional underpinnings, and the accessibility of modern medicine today, is the fact that in some criminal justice regimes inmates and detainees are not given adequate medical care. This is a serious issue that underwent examination this year in Chicago, after a suit was brought by the family of a woman that died while on lockup at the Western and Belmont police station in 2004.

According to The Chicago Tribune, in May, 2004, May Molina was arrested for drug possession charges and was taken to the Western and Belmont police station for processing and lockup. Ms. Molina had serious health conditions, including diabetes and asthma, and her family repeatedly warned police officers at the station of her condition. Despite her family’s pleas to get her medical attention, Ms. Molina died at the police station approximately 30 hours after her arrest.

After her death, Ms. Molina’s family waged a nine-year lawsuit against the City of Chicago and seven police officers who were involved in Ms. Molina’s case. This week the jury verdict came back finding the city and those officers liable for Ms. Molina’s death, and awarding the family $1 million in damages. The case uncovered the practices and policies instituted by the City of Chicago, and found them in violation of detainee’s constitutional rights. The suit will likely spur changes on police treatment of detainees requiring medical attention.

Though it may seem counter-intuitive that those who are suspected with committing crimes must be given adequate medical treatment, it is a constitutional right that cannot be impinged upon. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the Eighth Amendment guarantees prisoners and detainees the right to “adequate” medical care, whether the care is provided by prison staff or outside private care providers. A prisoner or detainee can prove that his or her Eighth Amendment rights were violated by showing that prison authorities treated him or her with “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.” This means that the prisoner or detainee must prove that the prison authorities not only knew that he or she had a serious medical condition, but that the authorities also recklessly disregarded any substantial harm from that condition to the prisoner.  In addition, the Eighth Amendment guarantees prisoners and detainees the right to a system of adequate medical care within the prison system. This means that prisoners must be able to access medical care and ask for it regularly.

The Eighth Amendment is one constitutional right that is not extinguished when a person goes to jail or prison, but rather protects them from cruel and unusual punishment, including the absence of readily available medical care. If you have been charged with violating Illinois criminal laws, you should immediately speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact Goldman & Associates today for a confidential consultation.

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