Jails and correctional facilities (local, state and federal) have an obligation under the law to provide adequate medical care to detainees and prisoners. A person who is in the custody and control of a detention facility obviously is not free to seek medical care and must rely upon the facility to provide adequate medical care. When they fail to do so, and that failure causes harm, liability may arise.
The duty owed to inmates depends on the nature of the claim as well as the status of the inmate or detainee. For example, when improper or inadequate medical care is provided, a person who suffers harm may have a state law medical negligence claim as well as a federal constitutional claim. Under the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution, convicted prisoners have a right to be free from “cruel and unusual punishment.” The United States Supreme Court has held that the Eighth Amendment bars “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners,” which would constitute the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976).
In cases involving pre-trial detainees, the obligation to provide medical care arises from the due process guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the failure to provide such care amounts to a form of punishment imposed on persons not convicted of a crime, which is impermissible. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520 (1979).