When prison officials assault or abuse inmates, the inmates may sue those officials and the municipality that runs the prison. A plaintiff inmate can hold the corrections officers directly responsible for the assault or abuse through theories of assault and battery or negligence. The inmate may also hold the municipality directly responsible through a claim that the inmates injuries and damages were caused by an improper policy, lack of training, supervision and/or discipline, or a custom in the prison that went unchecked by the prison supervisors.
When prison employees neglect their duties to provide supervision or care to inmates, whether it is medical care or mental health care, the inmate can file suit for violation of his Eighth Amendment Right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The law imposes a high standard in these cases and proving simple negligence, as in a state court medical malpractice case, is not enough. The plaintiff inmate must prove that the prison recognized the need for medical care or mental health care, or that the inmate was particularly vulnerable to suicide, and then recklessly and deliberately disregarded that need in not providing care.
In most cases, local and state prisons have contracted with private companies to provide medical and mental health care to inmates, so suit can be filed against these companies and their employees. In these cases, the companies are working as “state actors,” the same as if they were government employees, so the same rules and Constitutional protections apply.
In cases of inmate suicides, there is an additional hurdle the law requires the plaintiff to clear, which is proving that the inmate was clearly or obviously particularly vulnerable to suicide. This element must be proven before proving that the prison employees or contract workers recklessly disregarded the inmates needs for mental health care and/or monitoring, which in turn led to his suicide.
When bringing suit directly against a municipality or contract company, the inmate cannot hold them responsible simply because of the actions of their employees. Rather, the inmate must prove that there was a policy in place that led to the inmate’s rights being violated, and that the municipality or contract company recklessly and deliberately disregarded the policy at issue and the need to change it in order to avoid the inmate being hurt. In the alternative, the inmate can attempt to prove that, although the policies in place were proper, there was a custom in the prison, which caused the inmate to be hurt, and the municipality or contract company recklessly and deliberately disregarded the custom.
While the law imposes a high standard on inmates who try to sue prisons for violations of their Civil Rights, an experienced attorney can conduct the proper investigation to determine whether evidence exists that can rise above these standards, and, in doing so, allow those who are most vulnerable to the abuse of power to recover damages for violations of their Constitutional Rights.