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Opening Arguments

Healthy prisoners

A letter to the editor from a Jeffersonville woman takes on Indiana's attorney general over health care:

As a citizen of the United States and resident of Indiana, I am surprised that the Attorney General of the State of Indiana, Greg Zoeller, would even entertain filing a lawsuit. His reasoning is based on the constitutionally of health care reform.

In the suit, it states: “The Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty, that all citizens and legal residents have qualifying health care coverage.”

However, the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution states that it is “cruel and unusual punishment” for states not to provide health care to prison inmates. Why would the attorney general even challenge the Constitution? Are the 47 million American citizens without health care less important than inmates in our country? Is the citizen that lost his/her job and without health care less important?

Whew. The Eight Amendment, of course, says nothing at all about health care. It says merely that "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." The "cruel and unusal punishment" part has been used to argue against everything from capital punuishment to cell overcrowding. Courts have considered the health-care implications of the Eighth Amendment, but the letter writer overstates the outcomes just a tad.

But you have to admire the audacity of her logic. Why, prisoners (who are locked away and deprived of liberty and all amenities) are taken care of, so why shouldn't the rest of us be? It's fair to wonder what she would be willing to give up for that care. And scary to guess what her answer might be.


Fri, 04/23/2010 - 9:25am

I have defended our local jail against a variety of inmate health care related lawsuits. I use the argument "it's jail, not health insurance" with varying levels of success.

In any event, the 8th Amendment (or 14th Amendment in the case of a pre-trial detainee to whom the 8th Amendment does not apply) test applied by the federal courts with respect to health concerns is that a jailer cannot be "deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need."