When you are convicted of a felony and sent to prison, you lose a lot of your constitutional rights and human rights while you are incarcerated. In some states, some of these rights are not automatically restored upon a prisoner’s release, and ex-prisoners may never reclaim all of their rights (most notably, voting rights and Second Amendment gun rights).
When someone is behind bars and punished for a crime, it creates a situation where the safety and security of society outweigh the human rights of the criminal individual. So what rights does a person have when he is locked up and deprived of his personal liberty? That’s the question we’ll answer in today’s post.
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- According to the constitution, prison inmates are slaves of the state
- Prisoners’ reserved rights
- More rights reserved for prisoners
- Prisoners do not have rights
- Abuse is a problem in the prison system
According to the constitution, prison inmates are slaves of the state
The U.S. Constitution is the greatest document ever written by mankind, but it still has flaws. Fortunately, one of its incredible features is the ability to make changes when we encounter one of these bugs.
After the Civil War, the 13th Amendment was added to the Constitution, partially abolishing slavery, but not completely. In fact, prison inmates were still considered slaves to the state.
“Neither servitude nor involuntary servitude, Except as punishment for an offense for which the person should be formally convictedshall exist within the United States, or any place subject to its jurisdiction,” the amendment reads.
Pop culture tends to paint prisoners as having virtually no rights, and there’s some truth to that. Prison inmates do temporarily lose some of their rights while incarcerated, and prisoner abuse certainly happens in American prisons.
Prisoners do, however, retain some basic civil liberties and rights while in prison, and they can seek restitution if they can prove their rights have been violated.
Prisoners’ reserved rights
Probably the most important constitutional right prisoners retain is their 8th Amendment right to object to cruel and unusual punishment. It reads: “No exorbitant bail shall be demanded, no exorbitant fine shall be imposed, no cruel and extraordinary punishment shall be imposed.”
If anyone on the prison staff beats an inmate — or even knew about the assault but didn’t report it — it could violate the 8th Amendment. Cruel and unusual punishments are applied to prisoners both before and after trial.
The state must provide “humane facilities” for anyone imprisoned. The question, however, is, who defines “humane” or “cruel and abnormal”? Penalties, as defined by the Supreme Court, included dismemberment, disembowelment, beheading, public autopsy and burning alive.
The Supreme Court gave no explanation for any punishment that would be considered cruel and unusual by today’s standards. However, it must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Unfortunately, our courts still do not consider solitary confinement or excessive confinement cruel and unusual.
More rights reserved for prisoners
Prisoners also retain their 5th and 14th Amendment rights. The Fifth Amendment provides due process for pretrial prisoners. The 14th made it clear that this applies to anyone born or naturalized in the United States. Moreover, no one can be deprived of the equal protection of the law.
The Equal Protection Clause is designed to protect prisoners from any form of discrimination based on race, sex or religion – unless doing so would clearly violate their safety.
Other rights prisoners typically have include the right to express a complaint, the right to medical treatment, the right to practice religion, any rights provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the right to be free from sexual crimes.
Prisoners do not have rights
When it comes to the First Amendment, prisoners can retain some of these rights, but not all. As I said before, prisoners have the right to freedom of religious belief, and prisons must accommodate the wishes of prisoners to practice religion as much as possible.
Prisoners do lose their freedom of speech, however. They cannot say what they want without fear of punishment. Most importantly, they cannot use speech that could interfere with the order and safety of the facility.
Prisoner mail is also checked on entry and exit. Prison staff aren’t supposed to read inmates’ mail, but it happens all the time. There is no Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure when you are locked up.
Of course, prison inmates lose their Second Amendment right to own firearms. Once prisoners are released, they may not be able to buy or own a firearm again, depending on the crime they were convicted of. In some cases, prisoners’ second amendment rights can be restored.
Abuse is a problem in the prison system
Although prisoners are supposed to retain some of their rights while incarcerated, prisoners’ rights are often violated and abuse is a big problem in the prison system. Many prisoners are not even aware that legal action is available to them. But even if they know, they may be afraid to do so for fear of reprisal.
If you believe your prisoner is being abused in prison, you should call a prisoner abuse attorney to find out what you can do to stop it. Not only can you seek compensation for violations of the rights of prisoners, but you can help improve the prison system as a whole.
Just because someone’s behind bars doesn’t mean they’re no longer human.
What rights do you think prisoners should lose when they are incarcerated? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Prisoners' Rights https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/prisoners%27_rights#:~:text=Although%20prisoners%20do%20not%20have,against%20cruel%20and%20unusual%20punishment.&text=Regardless%2C%20prisoners%20retain%20some%20constitutional,access%20to%20the%20parole%20process. Do Inmates Have Rights? If so, what are they? Know Your Rights -- Prisoners' Rights Rights of Inmates What Legal Rights Do Inmates Have While Incarcerated? A Primer on Prisoners' Constitutional Rights United States Constitution 13th Amendment