Opinion of the Court
courage, and if harm does result society might well wish to assure compensation. The common law reflects such concerns when it imposes tort liability on a purely objective basis. See Prosser and Keeton §§ 2, 34, pp. 6, 213-214; see also Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U. S. C. §§ 2671-2680; United States v. Muniz, 374 U. S. 150 (1963). But an official's failure to alleviate a significant risk that he should have perceived but did not, while no cause for commendation, cannot under our cases be condemned as the infliction of punishment.
In Wilson v. Seiter, we rejected a reading of the Eighth Amendment that would allow liability to be imposed on prison officials solely because of the presence of objectively inhumane prison conditions. See 501 U. S., at 299-302. As we explained there, our "cases mandate inquiry into a prison official's state of mind when it is claimed that the official has inflicted cruel and unusual punishment." Id., at 299. Although "state of mind," like "intent," is an ambiguous term that can encompass objectively defined levels of blameworthiness, see 1 W. LaFave & A. Scott, Substantive Criminal Law §§ 3.4, 3.5, pp. 296-300, 313-314 (1986) (hereinafter La-Fave & Scott); United States v. Bailey, 444 U. S. 394, 404 (1980), it was no accident that we said in Wilson and repeated in later cases that Eighth Amendment suits against prison officials must satisfy a "subjective" requirement. See Wilson, supra, at 298; see also Helling, 509 U. S., at 35; Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U. S., at 8. It is true, as petitioner points out, that Wilson cited with approval Court of Appeals decisions applying an objective test for deliberate indifference to claims based on prison officials' failure to prevent inmate assaults. See 501 U. S., at 303 (citing Cortes-Quinones v. Jimenez-Nettleship, 842 F. 2d, at 560; and Morgan v. District of Columbia, 824 F. 2d 1049, 1057-1058 (CADC 1987)). But Wilson cited those cases for the proposition that the deliberate indifference standard applies to all prison-conditions claims, not to undo its holding that thePage: Index Previous 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 Next
Last modified: October 4, 2007