By definition, a person who is incarcerated has lost some freedoms for the duration of the prison term. But every prisoner still has basic human rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. If you or a loved one is facing time behind bars, it is essential to know what rights prisoners have.
First Amendment Rights
While you are an inmate, you retain your rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution to the extent that the exercise of those rights does not interfere with your status as an inmate. The First Amendment gives us five basic freedoms – freedom of speech, religion, press, petition, and assembly. However, if your attempt to exercise your First Amendment rights interferes with order, discipline, security, or other legitimate objectives of the penal facility, it can be curtailed.
For example, prison officials can read emails, open non-privileged mail, and screen outgoing communications to ensure noninterference with prison objectives. They can also censor incoming or outgoing mail for security reasons. Officials can also open privileged mail, which includes communications to and from attorneys, to check for contraband, but they must do so in your presence. If your mail is censored, the sender and you are both entitled to notice explaining the reasons for the censorship.
Right to Medical Care
Prisoners have a right to reasonable or adequate medical treatment. Unfortunately, they don’t always receive it. 40% of U.S. inmates have a chronic medical condition, according to a Harvard study. Researchers found that inmates with medical problems often had their medications stopped after incarceration, and compared to other Americans of the same age, 1.2 million inmates of state prisons are:
- 90% more likely to have suffered a heart attack
- 55% more likely to have diabetes
- 31% more likely to have asthma
Freedom from Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Under the Eighth Amendment, prisoners have the right to be free from inhumane treatment or “cruel and unusual punishment.” Although this term is not clearly defined in the Eighth Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that it includes beheading, disemboweling, drawing and quartering, public dissection, and burning alive. The Court left it open so that other punishments may also be disallowed in the future. Cases that may involve inhumane treatment or violations of basic dignity must be reviewed individually by the courts.
Freedom from Sexual Harassment and Sex Crimes
Sex crimes and sexual harassment are prohibited inside of a prison. This applies to offenses by prison personnel or by other inmates. Prison guards and administrators have been found liable by the courts for allowing sexual harassment or sex crimes to occur, or even instituting programs of inflicting such conditions on inmates. Such offenses may be subject to both civil and criminal penalties.
Right to Accommodation for Disabilities
Disabled inmates are entitled to reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Prisoners who are disabled should have the same access to prison facilities, services, and programs as other inmates. They are entitled to be housed at the correct security level in a cell with accessible elements necessary for safe, appropriate housing. But prison officials do not have to accommodate if participation by a disabled prisoner would pose significant health or safety risks that reasonable modifications would not mitigate.
Speak to an Attorney Today
The prospect of going to jail can be a terrifying experience, but you should not give up hope. A strong defense can help you get a reduced sentence, probation, or a complete dismissal. To do that, you will need to work with a dedicated criminal defense team at The Bussey Law Firm, P.C.
Colorado Springs criminal defense attorney Tim Bussey has been featured on ABC, NBC, and KWGN and voted Top Attorney by Colorado Springs Style Magazine. We bring an unparalleled level of knowledge, experience, and dedicated advocacy to every case we handle. Contact The Bussey Law Firm, P.C., at (719) 401-0585 to get a free case evaluation.