Sure, having two eyes is nice, but "one eye is good enough for prison inmates." That was the policy apparently in play when the state of Nevada denied a partially blind prisoner cataract surgery—but such a policy is also "the very definition of deliberate indifference," a federal appeals court ruled yesterday. The court has allowed John Colwell's lawsuit to go forward after the convict, serving life in prison for murder, accused the state of inflicting cruel and unusual punishment, the Las Vegas Sun and San Francisco Chronicle report. Colwell says he's been blind in his right eye since 2002 but was denied cataract removal surgery despite doctors' recommendations.
Though Colwell's lawsuit was initially thrown out because he couldn't prove the state was acting in "conscious disregard of an excessive risk to his health," the appeals court said yesterday that "the evidence shows the Nevada Department of Corrections denied cataract surgery on him as he had one good eye," and the state may be guilty of cruel and inhumane punishment. A judge in favor of the 2-1 decision to reinstate the lawsuit added, "although blindness in one eye is not life-threatening, it is no trifling matter." Colwell says he's suffered numerous injuries as a result of his partial blindness, including getting into fights with other prisoners after he accidentally bumped into them.