Farmer v. Brennan

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Farmer v. Brennan
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued January 12, 1994
Decided June 6, 1994
Full case nameDee Farmer, petitioner v. Edward Brennan, Warden, et al.
Citations511 U.S. 825 (more)
114 S. Ct. 1970; 128 L. Ed. 2d 811
ArgumentOral argument
Case history
Prior11 F.3d 668 (7th Cir. 1992); cert. granted, 510 U.S. 811 (1993).
A prison official's "deliberate indifference" to a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate violates the Eighth Amendment.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
Harry Blackmun · John P. Stevens
Sandra Day O'Connor · Antonin Scalia
Anthony Kennedy · David Souter
Clarence Thomas · Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Case opinions
MajoritySouter, joined by Rehnquist, Blackmun, Stevens, O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg
ConcurrenceThomas (in the judgment)
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Amend. VIII

Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994), was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a prison official's "deliberate indifference" to a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate violates the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment. An amicus brief was submitted by Stop Prisoner Rape,[1] which lauded the decision.[2]


Dee Farmer, a trans woman, was incarcerated with the general male population after she was transferred to the US Penitentiary Terre Haute, Indiana. She was repeatedly raped and beaten by the other inmates and acquired HIV as a result. Farmer claimed that the prison administration should have known that she was particularly vulnerable to sexual violence.


The majority opinion of the Court agreed that it was the responsibility of prison officials to prevent prisoners from harming one another, to the point that prison officials who were "deliberately indifferent" were ruled liable under the Eighth Amendment. The court did not make prison officials liable for all violence between inmates:

We... hold that a prison official may be held liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying humane conditions of confinement only if he knows that inmates face a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it.[3]

Justice Blackmun's concurring opinion went further by saying that the government was responsible for the conditions inside, even if no specific agent of the government had acted in a particularly culpable manner.

Where a legislature refuses to fund a prison adequately, the resulting barbaric conditions should not be immune from constitutional scrutiny simply because no prison official acted culpably....The responsibility for subminimal conditions in any prison inevitably is diffuse, and often borne at least in part, by the legislature. Yet, regardless of what state actor or institution caused the harm and with what intent, the experience of the inmate is the same. A punishment is simply no less cruel or unusual because its harm is unintended. In view of this obvious fact, there is no reason to believe that, in adopting the Eighth Amendment, the Framers intended to prohibit cruel and unusual punishments only when they were inflicted intentionally.[3]

The decision marked the first time the Supreme Court ever directly addressed prisoner rape.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "SPR files Brief in Farmer v. Brennan" (Press release). Stop Prisoner Rape. 1994-01-11. Archived from the original on 2010-11-25. Retrieved 2008-12-30.
  2. ^ a b "Hailing Supreme Court Decision" (Press release). Stop Prisoner Rape. 1994-06-07. Archived from the original on 2010-11-25. Retrieved 2008-12-30.
  3. ^ a b Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994). Retrieved 2008-12-30.

External links[edit]