In the United States, prisoners within the correctional systems are owed certain rights. It doesn't matter if they have admitted to and been convicted of a crime. It doesn't matter if a prisoner pleaded guilty to the most serious of crimes; prisoners are human and residents within this land of the free.
A jail cell limits a person's freedom, sure. The bars between a prisoner and his or her freedom, however, do not bar inmates from the right to live a reasonably safe and healthy life. The public is no stranger to talks about fighting for adequate healthcare. That conversation must expand to include the healthcare provided to inmates in Pennsylvania and across the country.
As the American Civil Liberties Union puts it, "The failure to provide prisoners with access to needed healthcare too often results in tragedy." Tragedy for these victims comes in the forms of worsened health conditions and death, sometimes by suicide.
From a historical and legal perspective, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled for the proper healthcare for inmates. Not providing adequate health treatment for men, women and children in the system can equate to the constitutional violation of essentially committing cruel and unusual punishment against the incarcerated.
As a country, we should not be okay with neglecting inmates' medical needs. What if, for example, someone who is serving a few years is sick, ignored and is then released? A simple and treatable sickness could become a chronic condition that not only forever harms a person's quality of life, but also costs our country. Is it not enough to deprive people of their freedom? Do we want to deprive them of their good health, potentially their lives?
A prisoner is not just a prisoner; they are a person. The people who are serving time have family and friends outside of the system. Those people are often emotionally awaiting the release and hoping every day for the safety of their incarcerated loved ones. Depriving a prisoner of medical care deprives him or her of their rights and deprives their loved ones of trust in our country's system.
If you have watched a loved one suffer or even die due to the negligence of the correctional system, don't feel hopeless. Through working with a civil rights attorney, you might identify evidence of neglect and, therefore, have a valid claim against the careless parties involved. We know a criminal conviction doesn't strip a person of their rights to medical care and can help fight to make that clear to those whose job is to manage inmates, not abuse them.