The Supreme Court has ruled that to show Deliberate Indifference to the medical needs of an inmate would violate the inmate’s eighth amendment rights. However, the nation’s prison and county jail systems were left to determine what Medical Need means, and there is a very wide variety of interpretations depending on the facility. For the most part, if you need life sustaining medication, such as for diabetes, you will be allowed to take it while you are incarcerated. If your prescription is for something other than life-sustaining conditions, you may be denied. While each state or county has its own rules regarding prescription medications, there are some common themes:
Cost and Methods
County Jails: In most cases it won’t matter which non-narcotic medication you are prescribed, once you go into jail you will be switched to the cheapest version at the first opportunity. Some county jails allow you to bring your prescriptions in original bottles, labeled for you, to the jail. Then, whoever doles them out will give them to you. In these cases, as long as you can get someone to bring refills to the jail, you will probably get them. Once the refills run out, most jails have the jail doctor write a prescription for a similar medication, but the cheapest ones possible.
Prisons: Prisons are different than county jails. Some prisons fill prescriptions and allow you to keep them in your cell and take them as needed. The most common exceptions to this are narcotics or anything requiring an injection. In those situations, the prison may require you to report to medical to take each dose in front of jail personnel. Like county jails, many prisons require their doctor to find the least expensive medication for your medical issues regardless of what you were taking when you came in.
County Jails: Narcotics are often banned from county jails. If you go into jail dependent on a narcotic prescription, some county jail doctors will taper you down over several days to get you off of them. Other county jails have a “too bad, so sad” attitude and you will go cold turkey from day one. Talk with your doctor to see if he or she feels it is safe for you to taper down before you go into jail.
Prisons: Some prison doctors will consider prescribing narcotics if it is a clearly demonstrated need, such as for pain from cancer or psychiatrist medications for severe mental illness. If the prison doctor makes the rare decision to give you narcotics, it will probably be the smallest dose possible to manage your condition.
If your physician is willing to write a letter for you to give to medical personnel where you are incarcerated, explaining your condition and why specific meds and dosages were chosen, it may help. Once you are incarcerated, the medical personnel at the jail or prison become your healthcare providers and they do not have to defer to your prior physician, but you have nothing to lose by trying.
Always check with your doctor before making any medication decisions prior to going to jail or prison.