Prisoners' Rights

United States prisons, juvenile facilities and immigration detention centers have to comply with the Constitution, federal law and international human rights principles and to prevent cases of over-incarceration. The movement for prisoners' rights in the country advocates that prisoners, although they are deprived of liberty, are still entitled to basic human rights. The law in the United States, both federal and state, controls the establishment and administration of prisons as well as the rights of the prisoners.

Prisoners do not have full Constitutional rights, although they are still protected by the Constitution's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Inmates have to be afforded a minimum standard of living. The 14th Amendment of the Constitution stipulates that: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Therefore, the equal protection clause of the amendment also applies to prisoners. Prison inmates are entitled to Constitutional rights such as a right of access to the parole process, also known as a conditional release, and due process in their rights to administrative appeals. The amendment protects prisoners against unequal treatment on the basis of race, sex and creed. Moreover, the Model Sentencing and Corrections Act, which governs the process of sentencing criminal offenders, states that a confined person has a protected interest in freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin or sex. Prisoners also have rights to speech and religion.

Some of the basic rights entitled to prisoners in the United States are the right to equal and fair treatment, the right to access to a court of law, including a court of law with regards to prison authorities and the right to medical treatment. Prisoners also have a right to freedom of expression, reading materials and communication, the right to freedom of religion and the right to express concern with their standard of living. They should live in healthy conditions, drink safe water and have food and clothing. If they are a victim of assault in prison, they have a right to be protected by prison and state authorities. Advocates of prisoners' rights defend also a right to education, better payment of employed prisoners, as well as a right to conjugal visitation.

In the United Kingdom, anyone convicted of a crime or being held on remand pending trial, will not have the full extent of the rights protected by the law or the European Court of Human Rights. Those individuals are subject to certain restrictions but they are not deprived of respect and dignity. They have a right to food, housing, work, education, protection and acknowledgement of the family unit.

Upon their arrival in prison prisoners are searched for any prohibited items, such as weapons or drugs. Any cash they have will go to a special account for their use. Under the rules of Prison Act 1952, each prisoner must observe the rules of that act, as well as any rules or regulations that cover that particular prison. Prisoners in the United Kingdom are allocated a certain category based on their offence and on their behavior. The basic regime of the prison has strict rules and few privileges compared to the standard or enhanced one. Some prisoners may be immediately segregated from the other prison inmates again due to their offence.

Prisoners have a right to contact their family. There are card or PIN telephones in all prisons but the phone calls are taped for security reasons. However, phone calls to legal counsels are not taped. Prisoners have a right to send two letters. The letters of prisoners of high-security prisons and category A offenders will be read by officials. Moreover, the director of the prison can send back letters sent to prisoners if they are too long or contain unsuitable content. The inmates of United Kingdom prisons have a right to food, protection from assault and access to the courts but they lose their civil right to vote.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Getting Real about Race and Prisoner Rights
Mushlin, Michael B.; Galtz, Naomi Roslyn.
Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 36, No. 1, January 2009
Capitalist Punishment: Prison Privatization & Human Rights
Andrew Coyle; Allison Campbell; Rodney Neufeld.
Clarity Press, 2003
Total Confinement: Madness and Reason in the Maximum Security Prison
Lorna A. Rhodes.
University of California Press, 2004
Solitary Confinement: The Law Today and the Way Forward
Cockrell, John F.
Law and Psychology Review, Vol. 37, Annual 2013
The Prisoner's Ombudsman: Protecting Constitutional Rights and Fostering Justice in American Corrections
Heskamp, Brian D.
Ave Maria Law Review, Vol. 6, No. 2, Spring 2008
Not So Meaningful Anymore: Why a Law Library Is Required to Make a Prisoner's Access to the Courts Meaningful
Schoulen, Joseph A.
William and Mary Law Review, Vol. 45, No. 3, February 2004
Out with the New, in with the Old: The Importance of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to Prisoners with Disabilities
Ginsberg, Betsy.
Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 36, No. 4, June 2009
Tug of War: The Supreme Court, Congress, and the Circuits-The Fifth Circuit's Input on the Struggle to Define a Prisoner's Right to Religious Freedom in Adkins V. Kaspar
Budzenski, Scott.
St. John's Law Review, Vol. 80, No. 4, Fall 2006
Procreation and the Prisoner: Does the Right to Procreate Survive Incarceration and Do Legitimate Penological Interests Justify Restrictions on the Exercise of the Right
Guidice, Richard, Jr.
Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 29, No. 6, August 2002
Felon Disenfranchisement: Law, History, Policy, and Politics
Brooks, George.
Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 32, No. 5, September 2005
Women Prisoners on the Cutting Edge: Development of the Activist Women's Prisoners' Rights Movement
Barry, Ellen M.
Social Justice, Vol. 27, No. 3, Fall 2000
Access to Elective Abortions for Female Prisoners under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments
Johnson, Avalon.
American Journal of Law & Medicine, Vol. 37, No. 4, October 1, 2011
Improving Conditions of Confinement for Criminal Inmates and Immigrant Detainees
Schriro, Dora.
American Criminal Law Review, Vol. 47, No. 4, Fall 2010
Increasing the Accountability of State Actors in Prison Systems - a Necessary Enterprise in Guaranteeing the Eighth Amendment Rights of Prison Inmates
Chin, Alison.
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 93, No. 4, Summer 2003
Crime and Punishment in American History
Lawrence M. Friedman.
BasicBooks, 1993
Librarian’s tip: "Prisons and Prisoners' Rights" begins on p. 309
A System of Rights
Rex Martin.
Clarendon Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "The Right of Inmates to Work"
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