Ordinarily, what comes to your mind when you think of prison inmates? A bunch of offenders locked up in some facility where the face the cruelest human conditions as punishment? Well, all the stories of men that have tried to get themselves imprisoned intentionally should make you have a rethink. At some point, some persons have figured out that life is better in prisons than out here, even with all the “assumed” freedom of the non-incarcerated individuals.
The truth is that going to prison doesn’t immediately translate to one being stripped off all their rights. Even the most dangerous criminals – that you think deserve to rot in hell – have basic rights guiding their lives in prison as established by the constitution of the United States.
The allowable rights vary across correctional facilities, terms of the sentence, prosecution/trial stage and some other factors. And it is quite necessary that you are aware of these rights, for your sake as an individual on trial, or for the sake of your loved one who is getting locked away.
Some rights are generally applicable to inmates, notwithstanding the established factors. But before we delve into those, we won’t be saying too much when we tell you that during the pre-trial stage, all individuals are entitled to humane facilities without being subjected to any form of punishment, until PROVEN guilty.
Additionally, the range of rights which indicates the entitlement of prisoners are governed by the Prisoner’s Rights law and parts of First, Eight, and Fourteenth Amendments. These laws go a long way in determining how inmates are treated while imprisoned, as they guide and portray the basics of civil liberties and human rights. It also helps that lots of civil rights organizations and law firms are out to nail penal corrections facilities that treat their inmates inhumanely.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the basic rights of inmates in the United States.
The First Amendment Rights
This is just as plain as it comes; inmates are entitled to all the basic rights covered by the First Amendment including the rights to free speech and rights to practice any religion. Nevertheless, there is a limit to which a prisoner is allowed to exercise those rights. Thus, the prison officials are authorized to infringe on these basic rights, if -
- It threatens the security of the facility, other inmates or individuals outside the facility.
- Exercising such rights is deemed to go against the initiatives for which the facility is established
- At the said time, the religious practice or the form of speech in question is proscribed
- It affects the orderliness and organizational structure of the correctional facility.
- It goes against the disciplinary practices of the prison facility.
Basically, they are entitled to the rights for as far as their status as an inmate defines. Hence, prison officials are authorized to go through the letters, emails, and parcels going to and fro inmates, to ensure they operate within the limits of their rights.
Freedom from Sexual Harassments and Sex Crimes
Prison Rape Elimination Act governs the entitlement of inmates in cases of sexual victimization, whether from prison officials or fellow inmates. In cases of continued sexual crimes in particular prison facilities, courts have been known to charge prison guards and even the whole prison administration for turning a blind eye while the activities go on in their facilities.
Most inmates are unaware of this Act, and it greatly affects their stay in prison, when they can easily file reports and have the perpetrators sanctioned with criminal or civil penalties.
Right to Complaints and Court Access
Prisoners have the rights to freely express their grievances on how they are being treated during their incarceration. And they are as well allowed access to a court to air their complaints.
Right to Health Care
Inmates are entitled to as much healthcare as they need to be medically fit, both in cases of long term and short-term conditions. By law, the medical care which they are entitled to must be adequate. This applies to both medical and mental conditions.
Right against Discrimination and Segregation
Through the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, inmates are free to retain some of their constitutional rights, which guards their interest by creed, gender, race, and country of origin. This right is well pronounced in the Model Sentencing and Corrections Act, which was constituted by the Uniform Law Commission in 1978.
Rights against Cruel and Unusual Punishments
According to the Eighth Amendment, inmates have the rights to be free of any form inhumane treatment which may be regarded as or considered to be cruel and unusual. While there are no clearly defined extents by the Eighth Amendment, of what will be considered as cruel or unusual punishment, the Supreme Court prohibits the inhumane treatment of prisoners in ways that violate their basic dignity. Of course, this prohibition is subject to occasional reviews depending on the situation surrounding the administration of the punishment in my question.
The terms are not clear, but the boundary lines are clear enough; inmates are not to be abused, tortured or exposed to measures which the court in its discretion will term as unusual or cruel.
The Rights of Disabled Inmates
Under the American with Disabilities Act, inmates with disabilities have the rights to as much access to prison facilities as is allowed to inmates without disabilities. It is important to note that this does not in any way imply that such inmates be held in higher regards, or offered preferential treatments or accommodations that trump what is obtainable by other inmates. The directives of the American with Disabilities Act is quite straightforward; Inmates with disabilities have as much as rights as those without disabilities. Anything that is ordinarily inaccessible to them due to their disabilities will have to be adjusted to suit their abilities, so they are equally treated like other inmates.
Inmates Pursuing Legal Proceedings
Inmates who wish to file for litigation are to follow up on the process, according to the requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) of 1996. The Act instructs that inmates should ensure that they have exhausted all administrative remedies available in their correctional facility, before they may proceed to seek for a court appearance or lodge complaints in court.
It is important to note that if an inmate’s confinement conditions are determined to be in line with allowable constitutional rights and terms of their sentence, judicial proceedings will be unnecessary. Furthermore, the courts are not bound to apply strict measures in investigating an infringement of an inmate’s constitutional right; rather the rational basis test is used to assess the level of infringement.
In the end, even when an inmate thinks that their rights have been infringed, it will take the assessment of law officials to determine who among the supposed offender and the supposed victim is at fault – if any is at fault at all. It is a dicey situation worth giving a try.