The rights of prisoners are rights that an individual has while incarcerated. There are some rights that prisoners are deprived of while they are incarcerated. However, incarcerated individuals still have basic rights that cannot be violated. These rights include civil liberties and fundamental rights that all Americans are afforded.
What is Transparency and Accountability of Prison Guards?
A prison guard is a uniformed individual who works in a prison. They are responsible for:
- Enforcing prison rules;
- Preventing assaults;
- Preventing escapes; and
- Maintaining general order in the facility in which they work.
Prison guards also respond to emergency situations, including:
- Fires; and
- Confrontations between inmates.
In recent years, it has been recognized that there is a need for greater transparency and accountability for prison guards. This is an especially important issue in private prisons.
Government prisons have been facing overcrowding issues for many decades. Since the Supreme Court ruled that prison overcrowding violates the inmates’ Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishments, the government was forced to begin using private prisons to house inmates as well.
Government prisons are subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Pursuant to the FOIA, an individual can request records about a prison owned and operated by the government, so long as the request is properly submitted and does not fall into any listed exemptions.
Private prisons often are not required to and do not respond to FOIA requests. The argument is that private prisons are private corporations and, therefore, not subject to the FOIA. However, this causes issues with prison transparency, such as budget issues, prisoner demographics, and care and treatment of those incarcerated in a private prison.
Many times, overcrowded prisons are also understaffed. This leads to a number of issues regarding inmate treatment and care. Understaffing also leads to issues regarding prison guard accountability and lack of leadership.
What are Disabled Prisoners’ Rights?
What an individual is behind bars, they still have the right to civil liberties and basic fundamental human rights. These include:
- Being protected from cruel and unusual punishment. Pursuant to the Eighth Amendment, an individual is entitled to freedom from treatment including torture, abuse or being forced to live in unsanitary conditions;
- Protection from subjection to sexual harassment or other sex crimes. This includes protection from actions of other inmates or prison staff;
- Protections afforded to disabled individuals under the Americans with Disability Act. even if an individual is incarcerated, if they have a disability, they have rights under the ADA.
- Being free from discrimination, including discrimination based on:
- sexual orientation; and
- other characteristics;
- Rights under the First Amendment, which includes freedom of speech, so long as exercising these rights does not interfere with their status as a prisoner;
- The right to complain about treatment and have access to the courts; and
- The right to adequate medical or mental health care.
What Rights are You Deprived of as a Prisoner?
There are some rights individuals are deprived of when they are incarcerated. These include:
- Prisoners property may be seized if it is considered contraband. While a prisoner cannot be intentionally deprived of their property, they are not permitted to have some items, known as contraband;
- They do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their cells. A prisoner’s cell may be searched without a warrant;
- A prisoner does not have the rights afforded to individuals under employment laws. For example, they are not entitled to minimum wage; and
- They cannot go directly to a court to seek a remedy. Prior to requesting help from a court, a prisoner must exhaust all other internal remedies.
When do the Rights Reach a Gray Area?
Prisons are ultimately responsible for running the facilities in a way that keeps all individuals safe. This includes the safety of prisoners, guards, and the surrounding population. Because of these requirements, prisons may forbid prisoners from having certain personal items, such as picture frames or crucifixes, which may be used as weapons. Any item that is considered potentially harmful to the population may be confiscated.
A prisoner may also lose rights based on their behavior. While a prison may have the right to personal property, if they violate a prison policy or a rule so that they are considered a danger to the other inmates and staff, they may lose the ability to access most, if not off, of their personal property. They may also lose other rights, including access to the canteen, or the place where they can purchase goods, or lose the rights to have visitors.
Although certain prison rights can be taken away, there are times when a prisoner’s rights can be clearly violated. For example, if they have a disability which hinders their mobility, such as walking and or going up and down stairs, and the staff confiscated their wheelchair or cane. Although a cane or a wheelchair may be a potential weapon, it must be made available to the disabled prisoner each time they need to travel from one area to another.
Can a Prisoner Object to Poor Conditions in a Prison?
Yes, a prisoner can object to conditions in their prison or treatment they receive as long as their challenge is not frivolous or malicious. The challenge must be made in good faith. The challenge must also have a legal and factual basis. Should the prisoner’s challenge be frivolous or malicious, the court will dismiss the suit and the prisoner’s credibility may be damaged.
If a prisoner wishes to object to a poor condition in the prison, they will be required to exhaust any internal grievance procedures the prison has in place. This means, the prisoner must attempt to solve the problem within the prison and without involving the courts and the legal system.
If the prison’s internal claims procedure is inadequate to resolve the issue, a prisoner may file a claim in court. In order for a claim to be successful, the prisoner must show that the prison employees, prison guards, or prison officers knowingly violate the prisoner’s civil rights. The elements of proving this type of claim include:
- Evidence that the prisoner’s rights were violated;
- A showing that the prison employees, prison guard, or prison officers were aware of the civil rights violation;
- Proof that the prison employees, prison guard, or prison officers took no action to protect the prisoner’s civil rights or encouraged the violation of the prisoner’s rights.
How Can a Lawyer Help with Prisoner Rights Violations?
You should hire a criminal lawyer for any prisoner rights violations issue. If you are incarcerated and you believe your rights have been violated, an attorney can help you. It may be difficult for the inmate themselves to obtain certain evidence that may help their case, but an attorney will be able to take necessary actions to gather evidence for your case. Your attorney will review your case, assist you with filing a complaint, or represent you in court, if necessary.
Whether or not your rights were violated is generally left up to the court for interpretation. Because of this, it is extremely important to have an attorney argue your case before the court. The attorney will know what evidence to present and how to best present a persuasive argument to the judge.