What Rights Do Prisoners Have?

As an individual who has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to jail, it’s important to understand that inmates have specific rights while incarcerated. Though your freedoms are undoubtedly limited when you serve time in prison, certain fundamental rights are protected by the U.S. Constitution and various laws. 

The following are some of the most essential rights that prisoners have:

The Right to Healthcare

The Right to Healthcare

While in custody, prisoners retain the right to healthcare. This includes access to necessary medical care for injuries and serious illnesses without undue delay. Under the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, correctional facilities are required to provide adequate healthcare.

However, while inmates have a right to health services, this may not always equate to immediate care or treatment that equals what is available outside prison walls. Prisons should offer an acceptable standard of medical services, but unfortunately, they’re often not as comprehensive as what you’d receive outside of prison.

Access to Mental Health Care

Mental well-being, just like physical health, must be attended to, with adequate psychiatric or psychological care provided when needed. 

If an inmate has existing mental health conditions or develops them while incarcerated, they’re entitled to receive necessary treatments, such as medication and sometimes therapy sessions. They often have access to drug and alcohol treatment as well. 

The Right to Humane Conditions 

The right to humane treatment while imprisoned is fundamental. Prisons are legally mandated to provide inmates with livable conditions, which include proper food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, and personal safety.

Prisoners also have a reasonable expectation of safety from staff abuse and inmate-on-inmate violence. To ensure humane conditions, corrections personnel must take measures to prevent sexual assault and offer procedures for reporting abuse within the facility.

Freedom of Religion 

The First Amendment provides for the freedom of religion, which extends to inmates within correctional facilities. This means you have the right to practice your faith and hold religious beliefs without interference. 

In order to accommodate these rights, prisons often provide access to chaplains, allow the observance of religious holidays and dietary restrictions related to faith beliefs, and permit possession of certain religious items. It’s important for correctional facilities to balance an inmate’s right to freely exercise their religion with legitimate security concerns critical in a prison setting. 

The Right to Be Free From Racial Segregation 

Inmates retain protection against discriminatory treatment on the basis of race. It is unconstitutional for prisons to operate under racially segregated conditions. Prisons cannot have policies or practices barring inmates from facilities or privileges due to race and can’t assign a cellmate based on skin color.

The Right to Express Complaints of the Conditions

As a prisoner, you maintain the right to voice complaints about the prison or jail conditions and your treatment while in custody. This includes bringing your concerns forward through an internal grievance process.

Inmates can go beyond the prison’s procedures and take their grievances to court in some cases. They have the right to be heard in civil rights lawsuits seeking relief for poor conditions or other violations.

The Right to Assert Their Rights Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

Protections under the ADA apply to inmates as well. Prisoners are entitled to accommodation for disabilities in line with this act so they can access prison programs or facilities adequately, on par with any other inmate.

This act covers a range of physical and mental health conditions that could impact an individual’s ability to fully engage in prison life and ensures reasonable accommodations are made. Such accommodations might include providing hearing aids, wheelchairs, sign language interpreters for deaf inmates, vision assistance devices for blind people, or modified living spaces and facilities accessible to those with physical disabilities.

Understanding these rights is crucial in ensuring fair treatment within the justice system. While the above list highlights some of the primary and often violated rights of prisoners, it is not exhaustive.

What to Do If Your Rights Are Violated As a Prisoner in Kentucky

If you believe your rights as a prisoner have been violated, you need to take swift and proper action. Knowing the correct steps to follow can help correct these wrongs and protect your welfare.

Identify the Violation

First, be clear about which rights you believe were infringed upon. This requires knowing what protections are afforded to you under federal law, as well as laws specific to Kentucky if that’s where you’re incarcerated. Knowing the particular violation is crucial in dealing with it effectively.

Report the Violation Internally 

Next, make use of your facility’s internal grievance system. Follow the procedures laid out by the institution, which typically involves thoroughly documenting the violation and submitting it through the appropriate channels within the prison. Keep copies of all documentation for your records.

Seek External Help

If internal resolution avenues are insufficient or if you face immediate danger, seeking external support is necessary. Your first point of contact outside should often be your defense lawyer. They’ll understand your situation and can advise you on the best course of action. They may help direct your complaints to the appropriate authorities or organizations. 

If you don’t currently have a lawyer, now would be the time to consult one or reach out for legal aid services that could offer assistance for inmates.

In some instances, reaching out to civil liberties groups such as the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) might provide you support in being heard and addressing your grievances.

Follow Up on Internal Complaints

After you report an alleged violation internally, stay on top of the complaint you filed. Ensure that your concern is being reviewed and addressed in a timely manner according to the jail or prison guidelines for their grievance process.

This is especially important in cases involving medical needs, which are particularly time-sensitive.

Get Support From Family or Friends If Possible

Your network outside of the prison can be a valuable asset. Keep family or friends informed about your situation and any rights violations you’re experiencing. They can advocate on your behalf when you might have limited means to do so within the facility.

Loved ones could help by contacting advocacy groups, sending complaints to prison administrators at higher levels, or even alerting the media if the situation calls for wider attention. This might also involve speaking with your attorney to ensure you are getting the help you need.

Contact an Attorney If Your Rights Have Been Violated in a Lexington Prison

If you feel that your rights as a prisoner have been violated, recognizing and taking action is essential. Fortunately, you don’t have to navigate this challenging situation alone. Contact Suhre & Associates DUI and Criminal Defense Lawyers today to schedule a free consultation with our Lexington criminal defense lawyers. Call us at 859-569-4014.