Prisoner’s rights include laws that a person has while in prison. While there are some rights that prisoners are deprived of while incarcerated, they still have a set of basic rights that cannot be violated. These include the fundamental human rights and civil liberties that all Americans have.
What Rights are you Deprived of as a Prisoner?
There are several rights that prisoners do not have while behind bars. This includes the following:
- Prisoners can have contraband taken away: While prisoners cannot be intentionally deprived of their property, they cannot keep contraband;
- No reasonable expectation of privacy in their cells: For example, their cells can be searched without a warrant;
- Prisoners are generally not subject to the employment laws: An example would be prisoners do not have rights to minimum wage; and
- Prior to seeking a remedy in court, prisoners must exhaust internal remedies.
What Rights do you have as a Prisoner?
While behind bars, a person still has the right to basic fundamental human rights and civil liberties. This includes the following rights:
- Protection from cruel and unusual punishment: Under the Eighth Amendment, a person is entitled to be free from treatment such as torture, abuse and being forced to live in an unsanitary space;
- To not be subjected to sexual harassment and other sex crimes: This includes actions by other inmates and prison staff;
- Protection under the Americans with Disability Act: prisoners with disabilities still have rights under the ADA.
- Be free from discrimination: This includes discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and others;
- First Amendment Rights: Prisoners still have these basic of rights (such as freedom of speech) as long as exercising these rights does not interfere with their status as prisoners;
- Right to complain about treatment and access to the courts; and
- Adequate medical and mental health care.
When Do the Rights Reach a Gray Area?
Ultimately, prisons have the responsibility to run the prison in a way that keeps everyone safe. This includes prisoners, the guards, and the surrounding population. So prisons may bar some personal items, like picture frames or crucifixes which can be turned into weapons; anything that is considered to be harmful to the population can be taken away.
Prisoners may also lose rights depending on their behavior. So while prisoners may have rights to personal property, if they violate prison policy/rules and are considered a “danger” to the other prisoners and staff, then they may lose access to most (if not all) of their personal property. They may also lose access to the canteen (where they can buy goods) and lose rights to visitation.
However, there are moments where a prisoner’s rights have been clearly violated. Like if they have a disability which hinders/prevents mobility, like walking or going up and down the stairs, but the staff take away the prisoner’s wheelchair or cane. Even though the cane or wheelchair might be something that can be used as a weapon, it must be made available to the prisoner every time he needs to travel from one area to another.
Do I Need an Attorney?
If you are incarcerated and think your rights have been violated, a civil rights attorney can help you file a complaint and represent you in court. Whether your rights have been violated will generally be left to interpretation of the courts, so having an attorney would be extremely helpful to argue your case.