A Legal Analysis of Health Care for Incarcerated Women in the United States



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



While decarceration has become fashionable, American penology remains in the throes of a penal harm movement, which posits that offenders should receive harsh punishment to deter them and others from future offending. Penal harm aims to enhance offenders’ punishment during their incarceration by making conditions in jails and prisons as painful and difficult as possible. Penal harm practices include, limiting inmates’ access to basic comforts such as coffee and tasty food, enhancing humiliations through chain gangs and wearing pink uniforms, and not supplying adequate health care. Given that the majority of incarcerated persons will eventually return to society, correctional health care plays an important role in public and community health. Inmates are the only population in the United States who are guaranteed a right to health care, which is important considering their health is poorer than the general population because they often do not have resources to receive medical treatment in the free-world. Research suggests, however, that the penal harm perspective influences correctional health care practices, lowering the quality of care inmates receive while incarcerated. As the population of incarcerated women rises in the United States, researchers are focusing on how correctional facilities meet their gendered needs and challenges. Female inmates have poorer overall health compared to male inmates and unique health problems, such as the need for reproductive health services, pregnancy-related needs, and menstrual hygiene concerns. Furthermore, incarcerated women have historically received lower quality health care and limited resources compared to their male counterparts, which limits their ability to seek treatment and to petition for legal remedies when that treatment is inadequate. The purpose of this thesis is to provide a legal discussion on the availability and quality of health services for women incarcerated in the United States to determine how penal harm influences the care they receive. This thesis uses a qualitative, inductive, doctrinal methodology to analyze United States Court of Appeals and United States District Court lawsuits brought by female offenders pursuant to Title 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, claiming violations of their Eighth Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.



Female offender, Incarcerated women, Correctional health care for women, Prison medical care for women, Women’s health, Eighth Amendment, Deliberate indifference, Section 1983,:Penal harm medicine