The Basics of Inmates’ Rights – Stuff Everyone Should Know

Nov 13, 2018 by

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Alex Hepgurn

Contrary to popular belief, people serving their sentences in jails aren’t entirely without any rights. Obviously, they are confined to a restricted space and have some of their rights curtailed. However, that doesn’t mean the prison inmates are to be denied basic human rights. Even the most hardened criminals are protected by the law. So, if you know someone who is serving a term or who are persecuted in court (you can find that out in Prison finder), you should know the rights they have while behind bars. Knowledge of prison rights ensure a fair and just trial for the accused, it secures their personal safety and also restricts the law from unfairly exploiting those persecuted. Here is a list of some basic inmates’ rights that though common knowledge, is crucial for everyone to understand.

First Amendment Rights

First and foremost, irrespective of the fact that you’re convicted or not, every citizen of US retains the First Amendment rights that include the right to free speech and religion. These rights guarantee personal freedom and allow one to practice their beliefs as long as it doesn’t interfere with others around. However, if a prisoner’s right to free speech or the right to practice their religion clashes with the legislative objectives like maintaining order and discipline in the facility, they can be curtailed. Prison officials can check or open letters, emails sent and screen outgoing messages and stop those which go against the law.

Cruelty and Brutal Punishments

The Eighth Amendment in the US Constitution protects the inmates from inhumane treatment and from “cruel and unusual punishments” during their term here. The Supreme Court has shed some light into what “cruel and unusual punishments” entail. Some punishment which was once the norm in the medieval period, is now banned. The list includes punishments like Drawing and Quartering, Disembowelling, Beheading, Flaying, Public Dissection, and others. The court has also included punishments which violate a person’s basic dignity to be cruel as well. The treatment is usually reviewed and considered on a case-by-case basis, to prevent any unfairness or unjust leniency.

Sexual Harassment

Everyone has the right to protect themselves from sexual crimes. Sexual harassment, no matter where it takes place and who does it, is wrong in the eyes of the law. Inmates have the right to complain in case they are being molested or raped by other inmates or prison personnel. Every prison should have a working monitoring system and guards installed at every cell to prevent these incidents. Courts can hold the prison administration and government officials liable (for either allowing or facilitating) sex crimes if they go unnoticed or ignored on their watch. People proven guilty of sexual harassments have to pay the civil penalties and serve the criminal sentence sanctioned against them.

Demand Better Prison Conditions and Access to Court

Inmates of the prison, no matter what stage of persecution their cases are on, have the right to basic living conditions. In case the prison fails to provide the basic facilities like food, water, and hygiene, the prisoners have the right to complain both to the prison officials and to take it to court. The prison is a correction facility, where the inhabitants are to be given psychological and physical counseling to atone for their crimes. The prison establishments can refrain from granting these rights to certain prisoners on the grounds of the civil judgmentdolled out. Some prisoners are placed in solitary cells, however, even they have the right to complain against the prison in case they are being denied food, water, and basic accommodation facilities.

Medical and Mental Healthcare

A prison house is not a place where convicts simply pay for their crimes. It is an establishment where the inmates have to be given the necessary counseling to help them realize and repent for their crimes. The correction facilities help convicts in getting back to the society and live a life of dignity. Prisoners are entitled to medical and mental health-care, however, they need not be of exceptional quality but only be reasonable. People with minor physical pain are not entitled to immediate treatment. Inmates who are suffering from chronic pain or life-threatening diseases like AIDS or cancer are to be given the minimum treatment and medications to keep them alive and comfortable.

Disabled Prisoners

The American Disabilities Act states the rights and concessions people with physical and mental handicaps are entitled to, and this also includes disabled prisoners. It ensures that the disabled convict receives equal access to places that an able person can visit. The accommodations also have to be customized to suit the disabled convict. This includes having ramps and planes installed, access to walking sticks, hearing aids, wheelchairs, and other amenities. Also, the disabled convict should be given the proper medical and mental assistance in emergency cases. However, according to the law, the accommodations need not be extraordinary or very luxurious, it only needs to be reasonable.


Discrimination of any sort is a criminal offense no matter who does it and who is on the receiving end of it. Prisoners who are ostracised because of their race, nationality, ethnic background, gender or sexuality, either by other inmates or prison officials are entitled to file a complaint against their offender and take them to court. This protects the basic dignity and right of expression of the convict.

The Bottom Line

A prisoner’s rights generally depend on his situations- on where he is incarcerated and at what stage of the criminal process their case is. People at the pre-trial stages have the right to humane accommodation and are to be treated as innocent until proven guilty. Criminals who have been proved so in the court of law have another set of rights that they can exercise. Although the one right that one would have to forgo while in prison is the right to privacy. Inmates are not protected from unwarranted checks and confiscation of property.


Alex Hepgurn

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