Because people in custody cannot seek medical care on their own, jail and prison officials have an obligation to provide reasonably adequate medical care to incarcerated persons to address serious medical and mental health needs. Medical and mental health professionals must exercise reasonable medical judgment.
If you think a person in custody is having an emergency, dial 911.
In the City Jails: for non-emergency concerns about the medical or mental health care a person in custody is receiving, you can dial 311 to make a complaint or call Correctional Health Services (“CHS”), the healthcare provider in the city jails, at 347-774-7000. Both 311 and CHS should have operators to answer your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you call 311, make sure you note your complaint number for future follow-up. If you call CHS, remember that the operator will not be able to provide you with any healthcare information about the person in custody due to privacy laws.
Because of laws protecting privacy, all requests for medical records must be accompanied by a HIPAA release signed by the person in custody. Requests can be sent by mail to:
New York City Health + Hospitals
Correctional Health Services, Medical Records Unit
55 Water Street, 18th Floor
New York, NY 10041
CHS also has a medical records hotline at 646-614-0100, and requests can also be sent via fax to 646-614-0290. Requests for records may involve a fee per page.
If the person in custody thinks they are not receiving needed medical care, they should file a grievance and appeal it to the highest level. You can also contact the medical staff at the jail or prison to express your concerns. In the city jails, you can also call 311 or the Board of Correction. In the state prisons, you can write to the Chief Medical Officer, State Office Campus, Building Two, Albany, N.Y. 12226. Jail and prison officials cannot respond to a person in custody about a medical or mental health inquiry without a release signed by the person in custody because of privacy laws, but they still are put on notice of any potential issues and should take action.
If your friend or loved one thinks their rights have been violated and are thinking about filing a lawsuit, there are different options. Suits brought under State law can be brought if the failure to provide adequate medical care was due to the City or State’s negligence or malpractice by the medical staff. The other option is to sue in federal court for violation of the person’s Constitutional rights: if jail or prison officials were “deliberately indifferent” to a serious medical need. This is a more difficult standard to meet. In either case, it’s important that the person in custody:
File a grievance and appeal it through all available levels of appeal.
If held in a City jail, they should file a grievance against the Department of Correction, if jail staff interfered with the provision of medical care such as by not taking the person to sick call. They may also need to file a grievance with the Health and Hospitals Corporation, if the problem was that the person did not receive needed care or staff committed malpractice. In the State prisons, medical care is provided by DOCCS so only one grievance is needed.
File Notices of Claim with the City or State within 90 days of the failure to provide needed care.
The Prisoners’ Rights Project can provide additional assistance. More information about a person’s right to medical and mental health care while in jail or prison can also be found in The Jailhouse Lawyers’ Manual.
The information in this document has been prepared by The Legal Aid Society for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. You should not act upon any information without retaining professional legal counsel.
Last Updated: 3 April 2020
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