The Rights of Individuals in Prison

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While prisoners are stripped of many of their civil rights, there are many protections still in place for prisoners per federal and state laws.  For starters, the Eighth Amendment protects all prisoners from cruel and unusual punishment.  Secondly, federal laws protect a prisoner’s right to freedom of speech, religion, and equal protection under the laws, regardless of discriminatory factors.  Additionally, prisoners do have the right to low, but basic living standards.  Typically, however, the courts rule in favor of prison establishments curtailing civil rights to maintain order over prisoner complaints that their rights were violated.

Prisoners Rights

One of the most commonly disputed prisoner rights is their standard of living or living conditions.  Many times, the current prison conditions edge closely to the minimum standard set by the Eighth amendment, which states that conditions must meet “the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities”.  Some factors that determine adequacy of prison conditions include overcrowding, nutrition lacking food, unsanitary living conditions, lacking access to medical care, unsafe building conditions, lacking hygiene items, lacking access to the courts, and failure to provide safety for the prisoners. 

Other rights afforded prisoners, include:

  • The right to equal protection, which are widely different in the prison management system than in a regular civilian application
  • The right to observe religious occasions
  • The right to medical treatment
  • The right to nourishing and nutritious food on a daily basis
  • The right to not endure physical attacks from guards, unless the guard is acting in good faith to control or otherwise regulate a precarious situation
  • The right to be protected from attacks by other inmates
  • The right to exercise
  • The right to make phone calls, send mail, and receive mail, albeit typically monitored or screened
  • The right to adequate accommodations if they qualify under the Americans with Disabilities Act

Other rights of prisoners are strictly regulated by the individual prison system and not guaranteed.  For example, visitation is not a right, but typically allowed.  Additionally, prisoners do not possess any legal protection from search and seizure in their cell, property, or even their own body. 

Prisoners and Parole Rights

Parole is a conditional early release from prison, which entails severe restrictions that must be met in order to maintain personal liberty.  Parole officers, on behalf of the state’s prison system, typically monitor parolees during their parole period.  Parole, unlike probation, is granted by the state administrative branch of the Department of Corrections.  Parole conditions and terms greatly vary from individual to individual, but typically, become less restrictive over successful time while outside the prison system.  Parolees, if they violate the terms of their parole, will face a parole hearing, which may revoke their parole, sending them back to prison. 

The typical process of obtaining parole from state prisons includes regular reviews in front of a parole board when one becomes eligible per their sentences.  Typically, the parole board will assess the nature of the original crime, the inmate’s history, the inmate’s record of accomplishment in prison, and the changes an inmate has made.  Additionally, victim impact statements may be made at parole hearings, which can prove detrimental to an inmate’s ability to obtain parole.   

Prisoners and Pardon Rights

Pardons, or granted clemency, occur when a chief executive grants an order releasing an individual from prison and future penalties related to a given conviction.  Only the applicable jurisdiction’s chief executive, typically a governor or the President, have the power to administer pardons.   In some instances, incarcerated individuals that have proven their innocence via recent advances in DNA testing are typical candidates for pardons, but in reality, the prisoner can file a writ of habeas corpus to liberate themselves.


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