Can I Sue Over Contracting COVID-19 in Jail?

vaccine hand syringe

During the height of the pandemic, correctional facilities around the country received federal funding to combat the spread of COVID-19. Just because the money was available, however, doesn’t mean every jail or prison used it to implement reasonable measures for keeping their inmates healthy.

If you or someone you love contracted the virus while behind bars and you think the facility could have done more to mitigate its transmission, your family may have grounds for legal action. Those who are incarcerated still have basic human rights, and when they’re violated, the victims are usually entitled to sue for damages.

What Are My Basic Human Rights at a Correctional Facility?

As long as you’re in jail or prison, you are protected from cruel and unusual punishment. Granted by the Eighth Amendment, this right essentially prohibits correctional officers from administering punishments that are considered inhumane or that violate the inmate’s basic dignity.

While incarcerated, you’re also protected from sexual harassment, and you should not be forced to take part in any sexual acts against your will.

Finally, you’re protected from discrimination. That means you cannot be excluded from any activities or lose any privileges based on characteristics like sex, gender identity, race, or religion.

In addition to respecting these rights, the administrators and officers at jails and prisons have an obligation to maintain decent facilities that are both inhabitable and free of hazards. They’re also required to provide adequate medical care.

When the pandemic was at its worst and cases were rising rapidly, that meant taking measures to keep prisoners from being exposed to the virus and from protecting them if they were. Instead of charging inmates for essentials like soap and hand sanitizer, for example, they should have been distributing them freely.

Likewise, they should have been encouraging prisoners to seek care at the first sign of any troublesome symptoms. Thankfully, many states stepped up and changed their polices in response to COVID-19 so medical care became more accessible to inmates.

For example, most states charged inmates a co-pay to see a physician before the pandemic started. This amount typically ranged from $2 to $5. Since prisoners generally earn between $0.14 and $0.63 per hour, that’s the equivalent of charging someone in the working class anywhere from $200 to $500 for a single doctor’s visit.

Many states recognized the harm of deterring inmates from getting care by imposing this financial burden and suspended the co-pay program in some capacity. For example, Mississippi lifted it for prisoners experiencing respiratory, flu-related, or COVID-19 symptoms.

Unfortunately, when it comes to a virus like COVID-19, doing the bare minimum isn’t enough to stop its transmission. As such, many inmates have found themselves facing lifelong complications because of how their facility responded—or, rather, failed to respond—to the pandemic.

Speak with a Jackson Civil Rights Attorney

If your rights or those of a loved one were violated while incarcerated, turn to Brown Bass & Jeter, PLLC. Our tireless team is proud to advocate for everyone, regardless of whether they’ve found themselves on the wrong side of the law. To schedule a free consultation with a civil rights lawyer in Jackson, call 601-487-8448 or complete our Online Contact Form.

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