What Rights Do Prisoners Have?

Incarceration can significantly infringe on a person’s freedom and rights. While prisoners do not have as many rights as the general public, they still have some rights that are protected by the federal constitution. These include due process to their right to administrative appeals and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or religion. Inmates also have rights to the freedom of speech and religion so long as these rights do not interfere with their status as inmates.

A skilled Cincinnati criminal defense lawyer protects your rights and interests as your case progresses through the legal system. Continue reading this article to learn more about the rights prisoners have.

Right to Humane Facilities and Conditions

Pre-trial detainees cannot be presumed to be guilty and punished with inhumane facilities. Prisoners who have been adjudicated guilty must be afforded a minimum standard of living. Not providing humane facilities and conditions could be a violation of your Eighth Amendment right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court has interpreted this right to prohibit any punishment that inhumane or violates the basic concept of a person’s dignity. 

Right to Medical Care 

Inmates are entitled to adequate medical care to treat short-term and long-term illnesses and conditions. This includes treatment for mental health care. 

Right Against Excessive Force

The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits prison officials from using excessive force against inmates and protects prisoners from assaults by other prisoners. However, prison guards can use force in good faith to maintain order. Your eighth amendment rights may have been violated if any of the following occurred:

  • Prison officials knew about the risk of assault by another prisoner and failed to respond
  • Prison conditions such as a lack of adequate correction officers create an unreasonable risk of harm

If you believe your rights have been violated, contact a lawyer for help understanding your legal rights and remedies.

Communication Rights

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution gives prisoners the right to send and receive mail. However, the prison can inspect and monitor mail to protect the security of the facility, prison officials, and guards. This right extends to non-privileged mail, which is generally mail from:

  • Family members
  • Friends
  • Businesses
  • Subscription services
  • Periodicals

Prisoners also generally have the right to receive books, magazines, and other mail. Prison officials do not have the right to prohibit access to materials simply because they disagree with their viewpoint or because they are religious or political texts. However, the prison can ban publications that explain how to build weapons, provide instructions on breaking the law, contain nudity or pornography, or explain how to escape prison.

However, if communication is privileged, such as coming from your criminal defense lawyer, there are more protections, including:

  • Prison officials cannot open outgoing privileged mail
  • Prison officials cannot read privileged mail without a warrant
  • Prison officials can only open incoming privileged mail to check for contraband

If prison officials censor your mail, they must provide an explanation as to why and give you an opportunity to challenge it.

Freedom of Religion 

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects your right to religion. This right is not immediately extinguished upon incarceration. Prisoners have special protections for their religious freedoms and expression. Depending on the circumstances, prisons may be required to provide the following to prisoners to help them express their sincerely held religious beliefs:

  •  Religious diet
  • Worship services
  • Access to clergy

Additionally, you may be permitted to possess certain religious items, such as religious texts, clothing, and headwear.

Prison officials cannot require you to attend religious services or impose their religious beliefs on you. They also cannot treat prisoners of one religious belief differently than prisoners of another religious belief.

Freedom from Racial Discrimination 

Inmates cannot be racially segregated in correctional facilities except when it is necessary to maintain discipline and prison security. 

Protections for Transgender Prisoners

The Prison Rape Elimination Act requires correction facilities to make individualized housing placement determinations, including when determining whether to place inmates in male or female facilities. They must give serious consideration to the inmate’s concerns for their own safety based on their transgender status. While many prisons keep transgender prisoners in solitary confinement purportedly to protect them, it is illegal to keep them segregated for more than 30 days without your consent. Additionally, while you are segregated, you must still have access to the same programs, education, and privileges afforded to other inmates. 

If you notify the prison that you have been assaulted or threatened because of being transgender, the prison must take action to protect you.

Additionally, prison staff must evaluate you for gender dysphoria if you request it. If you are diagnosed with this condition, the prison must provide medical treatment to you according to accepted medical standards. Prisons also cannot create arbitrary bans on specific types of treatment, such as gender confirmation surgery or hormone therapy.

You can also receive a private shower if you request it and be allowed to wear gender-appropriate clothing. 

Rights for Pregnant Inmates 

Pregnant inmates have many rights, including:

  • The right to have an abortion
  • The right to choose not to have an abortion
  • The right to prenatal care for pregnancy and postpartum care
  • The right to refuse sterilization
  • The right to refuse unwanted birth control after you are no longer pregnant
  • The right not to be shackled while you are pregnant, in labor, or recently given birth

Not all of these rights apply in all states, however. Additionally, you cannot be forced to pay for your pregnancy-related care before you receive it.

Rights for Prisoners with Disabilities

Disabled prisoners have protections under sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Under these rules, you have the following rights:

  • The right to an equal opportunity to participate in prison programs and services that you are qualified for unless your participation would impose significant safety risks to others
  • The right not to be discriminated against on the basis of your disability
  • The right to a sign language interpreter at disciplinary hearings, medical appointments, and educational program sessions
  • The right to receive necessary medical devices
  • The right to be housed at the correct security level
  • The right to reasonable modifications to policies based on your needs unless they impose undue financial or administrative burdens on the prison 

While these rights are not absolute, they do provide some safeguards for individuals with disabilities.

The Right To Redress 

If any of the rights described above have been violated, the inmate has the right to complain about it and have access to the courts. They can request a hearing in some circumstances to have their grievances addressed. The rights inmates receive are only so broad as to be consistent with their status as inmates and within the legitimate objectives of the corrections system. 

The Prison Litigation Reform Act requires that prisoners first exhaust all of the prison’s internal grievance procedures before they are allowed to redress their concerns by filing suit in federal court. 

Contact Suhre & Associates DUI and Criminal Defense Lawyers for Help

If you believe that your or your loved one’s rights were violated in prison, Suhre & Associates DUI and Criminal Defense Lawyers can help. Contact us online or by calling (513) 333-0014. We have a Cincinnati criminal defense attorney available 24/7 to take your call.