Of course, being sentenced to prison involves having your rights curtailed. However, that doesn’t mean that American inmates don’t get basic human rights. The U.S Constitution has made provisions for the protection of basic rights of inmates—even for the most hardened criminals. If you or someone close to you is facing incarceration, it’s important to know what your rights are.
The rights of an inmate can vary slightly depending on where they’re being held, and what stage of the criminal process their case has reached. Inmates who’re awaiting trial in jail—and have opted against posting bail— hold the right to be kept in a humane facility and cannot be treated as convicts while they await trial. Inmates who have been convicted in a criminal court reserve the following rights.
First Amendment Rights
While convicted prisoners do retain their basic First Amendment rights, i.e. the right to practice religion and free speech, they can only exercise these rights to the extent that they don’t interfere with their status as convicted prisoners. If an inmate’s attempt to exercise their rights interferes with the correctional facility’s legitimate orders, such as security and discipline, their rights will likely be curtailed. Prison officials will have a legitimate reason to read-emails, monitor outgoing communications, and scan incoming mail to ensure that it doesn’t contain anything that could interfere with the objectives of the facility.
Physical and Mental Health Care
Inmates have the right to receive mental health treatment and medical healthcare. However, the treatment they receive only has to “adequate” or reasonable. For instance, if an inmate has a tooth cavity, they’re only entitled to a tooth extraction, and not dental filling.
Quite often, even those with serious illnesses are only provided enough treatment to keep them pain free and reasonably comfortable, not necessarily to combat their illness or extend their life.
The American with Disabilities Act makes certain provisions for disabled prisoners. Under the Act, disabled inmates reserve the right to receive reasonable accommodations, and access to the same facilities as those who aren’t disabled.
Right to Complain About Access to Courts and Prison
Prisoners are entitled to file complaints regarding prison conditions and voice their concerns to both the courts and prison officials. Prisoners who have been denied these rights have had civil judgments passed in their favor against prison officials for instances such as being put in solitary confinement after voicing their concerns about prison conditions.
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