Legal Memorandum: Duty to Provide Medical Treatment to Prisoners

Issue: Under Wisconsin law, does a state have a compelling interest in providing treatment to mentally ill inmates in its prisons?

Area of Law: Administrative Law, Administrative Law & Regulation (Federal and State), Constitutional Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Provide medical treatment; Compelling interest; Mentally ill inmates
Jurisdiction: Federal, Wisconsin
Cited Cases: 290 Wis. 2d 202; 494 U.S. 210; 429 U.S. 97; 537 N.W.2d 358
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 09/01/2014

Even under a strict-scrutiny standard (rather than a rational-basis standard), courts tend to defer to the Legislature’s choices in the area of mental health and will not invalidate a statutory scheme addressing mental health under substantive due process if the statute is “narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest.”  In re Commitment of Olson, 2006 WI App. 32, ¶ 4, 290 Wis. 2d 202, 712 N.W.2d 61.

First, it is well-established that under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, states must provide medical treatment to prisoners.  Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976).  This duty to provide medical treatment arises from the fact that the state was entrusted with the prisoner’s custody and care.  Second, the state also has a compelling interest in maintaining prison security, preserving order and discipline within the prison, and protecting the safety of guards and inmates.  See generally Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210, 224-27 (1990) (extended discussion of state’s compelling penological interest in treating mentally ill inmates); North Dak. ex rel. Schuetzle v. Vogel, 537 N.W.2d 358, 360, 364 (N.D. 1995) (state also has interest in protecting integrity of correctional system and managing state resources).


Subscribe to Litigation Pathfinder

To get the full-text of this Legal Memorandum ... and more!

(Month-to-month and annual subscriptions available)