Deliberate Indifference: Definition & Standard

Instructor: Janell Blanco
Deliberate indifference, as it applies to prisons and jails, will be discussed in this lesson. We will also look at the standards set by the courts about deliberate indifference.


Craig is an inmate in a prison. Craig has epilepsy and requires medication to control his condition. He needs to take medication before breakfast and after supper. While Craig is at the prison, the guards refuse to let him go to the nurse to get his medication. The guards also refuse to dispatch the nurse to his cell to give him his medication.

What these guards are doing is deliberate indifference. Deliberate indifference happens when guards, wardens, and staff working within a jail or prison system knowingly refuse to respond to an inmate's safety complaints, remove a safety risk, or get an inmate proper medical attention. The overall definition is ignoring risks that are safety concerns or that can cause medical harm.


There are several situations in the prison and jail systems that can result in harm, injury, or death because of deliberate indifference. The standard in place, set forth by the courts, simply does not allow for prison officials to claim they did not know it was a risk to ignore an inmate's complaints, pleas for help, or requests for medical attention.

Let's put it in a simple manner. There is a rattlesnake that has made its way into a cell in a Texas prison. Rattlesnakes can be deadly, and putting an inmate in the cell with a snake or even leaving an inmate in a cell with a snake is a safety and health risk. Deliberate indifference would be leaving the inmate in the cell with the rattlesnake knowing the risks associated with the snake.

How about allergies to bees? An inmate is working outside picking up trash, one of his duties at a prison work-camp. The inmate accidentally hits a beehive and is stung by a bee. The guards refuse to call for medical attention or take the inmate to get medical attention, and the prisoner passes away. Once again, this is deliberate indifference.

One more example and we will move one with the history of deliberate indifference. An inmate was just released from the mental health ward for an attempted suicide. The inmate says that he is no longer suicidal, so the inmate is left in a cell unattended for a period of time. The guards complete an inmate count and find the inmate deceased because he hung himself with the use of bed sheets and shoe laces.

What do you think? Deliberate indifference or not? This would depend on the courts but this could potentially be deliberate indifference. The inmate was a suicide risk, and the guards left him unattended with items that he had previously used to attempt suicide.

You should now have a better understanding of deliberate indifference so we will explore the first case of deliberate indifference.

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