Deliberate indifference- the case of Farmer v. Brennan

Globally, the demand for human and civil rights by all people has intensified with time. Most social groups in society have moved to emphasize on the need to ensure that their demands are neither undermined nor overlooked as a major icon in enhancing acceptability and cohesion in the society. Sexual harassment in prisons today has been a major distressing issue that has caused massive suffering to victims and also great social disharmony.

Olsen posits that sexual harassment is a problem that affects individuals in a community as well as in prisons (199). However, deliberate indifference plays a critical role in disregarding the safety and health of inmates in prison. The latter goes against the provisions of the Eighth Amendment. This paper takes a critical look at the issue of deliberate indifference as ruled by the Supreme Court in the Farmer v. Brennan case of 1994.

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Gardner posits that deliberate indifference constitutes a conscious and reckless disregard of the possible effects of an individual’s omissions or actions which can cause harm to another person (429). This lack of disregard goes beyond mere negligence. Over the years, deliberate indifference standards have been applied by law court to determine the knowledge of professionals concerning risks and their negligence of actions performed by others which may cause safety or health issues to inmates.

Gardner continues to argue that it is difficult to determine what constitutes deliberate indifference, but quickly adds that courts have identified ways like factual scenarios which they use to establish deliberate indifference (430). Some of those ways include lack of effective response to an inmate’s complaints and delaying or deliberately not supplying medical care to an injured inmate.

A brief overview of the Farmer v. Brennan case (1994)

The above case concerned a male-to-female transsexual by the name Dee Farmer who having been charged with credit card fraud, was incarcerated in a prison with a general male population.

This led to Farmer going through repeated rapes and serious beatings from inmates. The consequences of the events were not only bodily harm, but also health problems as she eventually acquired HIV. In the court, Farmer made it clear that the prison administration neglected the fact that they were exposing her to the danger of sexual violence having put her among men.

The Supreme Court actually agreed by majority that the responsibility was on the prison administration terming their action as a deliberate indifference, an act that violated the Eighth Amendment. However, the prison administration was not automatically held liable to what happened to Farmer since the prison officials might not have known what was happening and abated it through reasonable measures.

The Supreme Court and deliberate indifference

The case of Farmer v. Brennan speaks of the need for prison guards to assume the duty of protecting inmates from harm by other prisoners. However, the ruling by the Supreme Court done by Justice Scalia on the objective components that the conditions of confinement of Farmer were fair and that the deprivations of her rights were not sufficiently serious was in reality a denial of justice.

Zangwill indicates the ruling by the court that there was no sexual harassment after the knowledge that Farmer, having a feminine appearance and preoperative transsexual was left at the mercy of male inmates to be beaten and raped clearly incarcerates transsexuals as targets for sexual harassment in prisons (100).

Olsen however differs with Zangwill on the point that the court was fair in its ruling since Farmer had not informed the prison administration that he was not safe. This could have seen prison officials either segregating her from others or securing better protection (199). Deliberate indifference could have therefore arisen if the prison staff had actual knowledge of the threat Farmer faced and refused to take reasonable measures.

Opinion on the ruling

The ruling by the Supreme Court on the case of Farmer was indeed unfair and I strongly disagree with it based on the fact that prison officials and professionals were well aware of the fact that sexual harassment is common in prisons.

Putting Farmer in a prison dominated by men without considering her sexual nature and appearance was a clear indication of their negligence of the harm that would befall Farmer. Reporting a threat to prison officials without a clear indication or proof of a threat does not always guarantee an inmate of security. The ruling by the court on the ground that Farmer had not reported the threat was a sure way of protecting the administration from liability.

It is common practice among many inmates not to report sexual harassment for fear that they would be called snitches.
Deliberate indifferences in similar cases to that of Farmer v. Brunner will be cited in conscious negligence of prison officials in the status of an inmate. Details of inmates, physical and emotional are normally supplied to prison official, a factor that provides them with information on the various rights of an inmate that needs to be protected.

Ignorance of those details and dependence on a prisoner to report threats to violation of those rights is a deliberate indifference on the part of prison officials. It is the duty of prison officials to ensure the safety of prisoners at all times with or without reporting. Having the background of widespread sexual harassments in prisons, it is upon prisons administration to establish measures that will curb any incidences of rape and sexual assaults.

Works Cited

Gardner, Martin. “Rethinking Robinson V. California in the wake of Jones V. Los Angeles: the “Demise of the Criminal Law” by attending to “punishment”.” Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology 98.2 (2008): 429-487. Print.

Olsen, Chad. “How the Tenth Circuits Ruling in Martinez v. Beggs affects the deliberate indifference standard for Eighth Amendment Claims.” Brigham Young University Law Review 2010.1 (2010): 199-214. Print.

Zangwill, Nick. “The indifference argument.” Philosophical Studies 138.1 (2008): 91- 124. Print.

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