Each day, men, women, and children behind bars suffer needlessly from lack of access to adequate medical and mental health care. Chronic illnesses go untreated, emergencies are ignored, and patients with serious mental illness fail to receive necessary care. For some patients, poor medical care turns a minor sentence into a death sentence.

The failure to provide prisoners with access to needed health care too often results in tragedy. It also violates the U.S. Constitution. Nearly forty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Estelle v. Gamble that ignoring a prisoner’s serious medical needs can amount to cruel and unusual punishment, noting that “[a]n inmate must rely on prison authorities to treat his medical needs; if the authorities fail to do so, those needs will not be met. In the worst cases, such a failure may actually produce physical torture or a lingering death[.] … In less serious cases, denial of medical care may result in pain and suffering which no one suggests would serve any penological purpose.

The overwhelming majority of people behind bars will someday be released. Providing prisoners with care today means having healthier neighbors and communities tomorrow.

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