Prison officials and correctional healthcare providers are doing their best to follow community guidance and best practices in corrections to prevent the introduction of COVID-19 into their facilities and address the virus if it is detected in their populations. The National Commission on Correctional Healthcare (NCCHC), a leading prison healthcare organization, has provided management and treatment guidance on its website. Ultimately, however, prison officials’ legal obligations are governed by the Eight Amendment’s “deliberate indifference” standard, which requires that prison officials not disregard a prisoner’s serious medical needs. A prison official cannot be deemed deliberately indifferent if he “responds reasonably” to substantial risks to inmate health or safety, “even if the harm ultimately was not averted” (Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834, 844-45 (1994)).
There is limited case authority applying the deliberate indifference standard to dangerous viral outbreaks on the scale of COVID-19, but guidance can be found in cases arising out of the swine flu epidemic that impacted prisons and jails in 2009. The following are basic steps that prisons and jails should consider in an effort to satisfy constitutional requirements…read more