Going to prison means
partially relinquishing your civil rights, but the United States Constitution is
supposed to ensure prisoner civil rights. These laws are in place to protect
the rights of even the most hardened criminals and inmates who can be
maltreated, punished, or abused by the system.
The United States has
the highest incarceration in the world, with a black person six times more
likely to be incarcerated than a white man. It is also the only democracy in
the world that has no definite body established to monitor prison conditions or
the rights of the prisoner. Whether it is to be treated fairly or protect their
health and safety, prisoners have rights, and it is time you knew them.
One right, every
prisoner should acclimatize themselves is the Eighth Amendment of the
Constitution. The law states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor
excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted”.
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It is very apparent
what the law guards against, including imposing harsh or undue punishment on
prisoners regardless of race, background, or offense committed. The clause of
interest here is “Cruel and Unusual Punishment”. While it is impossible to
measure precisely the level of cruelty in punishment, it is even more difficult
determining what or why punishment is unusual. This is another cloak that
shrouds this statement in mystery.
History of Prisoner’s Civil
Although the Eighth
Amendment protects the right of prisoners, it was added to the constitution
because of the culture of punishment and discrimination happening in the prison
system. Race, class, and the politicizing of the criminal justice system have
led to tremendous financial and human loss. The use of force and maltreatment
on prisoners is the reason for the Eighth Amendment.
However, there is a
unique story to this amendment, the phrase was adopted told of a man named
Oates Titus, and the punishment melted for the crime he committed. His sentence
was to be held in a pillory and flogged for two consecutive days. This was
viewed by many as cruel and unusual, excessive punishment, and not approved by
The Eighth Amendment
was the same as the 1689 English Bill of Rights. It was not added to the
constitution until 1776 when George Mason included it in the Declaration of
Rights for the Commonwealth of Virginia. This phrase was enacted and adopted in
1791 when the US constitution was reviewed.
Types of Prisoner Right
Today the 8th
Amendment protects the right of prisoners from been violated in the following
The right to dispute
their living conditions – this is the most common complaint from prisoners.
Complaint includes living in dilapidated facilities with poor hygiene and
sanitation, which is detrimental to the prisoners’ health. Some conditions also
include crowded prisons, no access to good food and healthcare, or basic
amenities to aid a decent living.
Other violations of
prisoner’s rights are
- Failure to provide safety to a
prisoner making them prone to prison bully, harassment and abuse
- Failure to allow a prisoner to
practice their religion
- Failure to provide nutritious
foods to the prisoners
- Failure to protect a prisoner
from the maltreatment of a prison warden or guard
- Preventing the prisoner from
exercising, making or receiving phone calls
- Maltreating a prisoner based on
color or race
- Failure to protect against
sexual crimes and sexual harassment
Rights that prisoners
have in prison
The harsh prison
condition and maltreatment of a prisoner, especially prisoners with mental
health is a common trend in our systems. Whether we agree or disagree with a
prisoner’s life, we cannot deny that they are human beings and need special
care and attention.
Some prisoner rights are:
The right to
healthcare – prisoner healthcare system is almost non-existent. Most times
prisoners are left to battle with a health condition without any help leading
to disability or even death. A case is how the Coronavirus is tearing through
the US prisons with over 2000 inmates testing positive to the virus without
showing any symptoms of the infection.
While some prison
systems are looking to release prisoners with less time or those locked up for
non-violent offenses, critics warn that it is too soon and too expensive. In this
case, a prisoner has the right to request for healthcare service that will save
his/her life or prevent a health condition from escalating.
They also retain their
first amendment rights – the right to religion and expression. In line with
this Amendment, prisoners have the right to practice their religion freely,
write, speak, write, and communicate with the outside world. The First
Amendment creates some sanity in the life of the prisoner and helps them passed
through the tough conditions in prison.
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Remedies available to prisoners
If a prisoner feels
maltreated by the warden or prison system, the inmate has the right to pursue
legal options. It may be best for a prisoner to seek the knowledge they will
need to pursue relief, look into legal aid, or consult a lawyer. However, if
the prisoner decides to pursue a complaint, he/she can, but may only push
forward the complaints based on the procedures available to them in their
prison. Prisoners who decide to pursue their legal options may be able to use
the federal civil rights statute that allow them to pursue cases in a federal
Retaliation faced by
There are concerns
that some prisoners come under fire and are subjected to retaliation for
asserting their prisoner rights. Several prisoners have had privileges and
personal belongings taken away from them because they asserted their rights by
making reports of physical abuse, mistreatment, and violations of their
While litigation by
prisoners with little to no outside support may be a challenge, such legal actions
taken by prisoners and organizations have changed prison laws, policies,
procedures, and how prisoners are treated while incarcerated. Overall, prisons
were built to hold people who have committed crimes accountable.
Let’s be clear. It’s
an ongoing topic that some people who are incarcerated may be innocent or
sentenced unfairly. It may be a good idea for all prisoners to learn their
rights or legal options or have outside support that can help them when faced
with any violations of their prisoner rights.
All prisoners are supposed to have rights. Without passing judgement, it is nearly impossible for some folks to understand that some prisoners also have or had problems that they did not learn to resolve, seek solutions, failed to address, or saw no other way out, which may have led to their incarceration.
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The Eighth Amendment of prisoner civil rights aims to protect a prisoner’s rights and provide a prison life
free of abuse and violations. Debatably, it does not accord enough rights to prisoners. Reports
of prisoner abuse have occurred and still occur. If you know a prisoner who may
believe that their Eighth Amendment right is been violated, you can get help
from a lawyer or prisoner rights organization.
For more information
about prisoner civil rights and the criminal justice system, click on the link