January 25, 2011 by The Perfectly Imperfect One
Yesterday I had an assignment due about inmates and if they have too many rights. I FB’ed the idea and got back some good ideas and thoughts about the topic. After thinking about the topic ALL DAY at work, I basically had the paper written in my head and it just flew out onto the page; I thought I would share it with you all. 🙂
Debate: Inmate’s Rights
The debate about prison inmates having too many rights has been a long suffering debate. The public thinks inmates have too many rights, but the inmates think they are not afforded enough rights. The public is also confused about what rights inmates are afforded, the public sees the privileges of the inmates as being rights, not benefits or privileges. The Constitution clearly states the rights of the accused, as well as the rights of the imprisoned.
Even prisoners have rights under the United States Constitution. The Eight Amendment states inmates have the right to be free from inhuman conditions, because inhuman conditions constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Inmates have the right to be free from sexual crimes. Inmates have the right to complain about prison conditions and voice concerns about the treatment received, and have the right of access to the courts to air these complaints. Disabled prisoners are entitled to assert rights under the American with Disabilities Act to ensure the inmates are allowed access to prison programs of facilitates to which he or she is qualified and able to participate in. Inmates are entitled to adequate medical care and attention as needed to treat both short-term and long-term conditions and illnesses. Inmates retain only those First Amendment rights, such as freedom of speech, which are not inconsistent with their status as inmates and which are in keeping with the legitimate objectives of the penal corrections system; prison officials are allowed to open mail directed to inmates to ensure it does not contain anything illegal, or even weapons (FindLaw, 2011).
Inmates have the right to be free from racial segregation in prison, except where necessary for preserving discipline and prison security. Inmates do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution, inmates are entitled to be free from unauthorized and intentional deprivation of personal property by prison officials. Inmates facing disciplinary investigation have the right to be notified in writing of the claimed violation, as well as the evidence against the inmate. Inmates are entitled to a hearing if they need to be moved to a mental health facility, but are not entitled when moving from one facility to another. A mentally ill inmate is not entitled to a full hearing before the government may force the inmate to take anti-psychotic drugs against his or her will, so long as there is evidence proving the inmate needs said medication (FindLaw, 2011).
Inmates and Courts
Prisoners must exhaust all internal prison grievance procedures before he or she can file suit in federal court. A prison must pay all court fines or filing fees on his or her own, with either one payment or in monthly installments. Courts have the right to dismiss any lawsuit seen as frivolous, malicious, or false. If the court tosses a case, the prisoner may receive a strike against them, if an inmate receives three strikes he or she is no longer allowed to file another lawsuit unless paying the entire court filing fee upfront. Prisoners cannot file a claim for mental or emotional injury, only for physical injury. Prisoners risk losing credit for good behavior if a judge decides the lawsuit was filed for the purpose of harassment or if the prisoner lied (FindLaw, 2011).
Inmate privileges are often seen as inmate rights, the difference between rights and privileges is that rights are in the U.S. Constitution, and privileges are decided at each facility. While it is true that inmates receive three meals a day, they do not have the right to it under the Constitution. Also, while an inmate has the right to medical care, no where does it say that it has to be free. In Utah, each inmate is required to pay a co-pay to see the doctor or nurse unless it is an emergency. The co-pay is $10. If the inmate needs medication or prescription drugs he or she must pay for them, in the amount of $5. While this may not seem like a lot of money to most people to see the doctor or receive medication, prisoners do not make a lot of money while in prison, oftentimes, they do not make any money but the inmate’s family will bring them money in order to buy things like soda, candy, cigarettes, junk food, and medical care (Officer Schwartz, Personal Communication, January 24, 2011).
Inmates also have the privilege of watching television, sometimes cable or satellite dish, playing cards, and working out; either in the yard or in a workout room. Some prisoners opt to read case-law in the library provided in order to appeal his or her case, this is also a privilege, even though an appeal is their right, it is a privilege to be able to read about other cases in order to receive an appeal. Inmates have the benefit of receiving an education, either a high school diploma or equivalent, or a college degree. Inmates may also learn life skills while in prison, such as money management, how to write a resume, how to interview for a job, and other job or life skills (Officer Schwartz, Personal Communication, January 24, 2011). Once again these are not rights under the U.S. Constitution, but they are privileges afforded to inmates by the corrections facility.
It Could Be Worse
In Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County has more than 2,000 inmates living without smoking, coffee, pornographic magazines, movies, and unrestricted televisions. Arpaio instituted the only accredited high school in an American Jail which he calls “Hard Knocks High”, along with an anti-drug program which resulted in a high percentage of his inmates leaving jail without addictions and few of them returning to jail (Truth or Fiction, 2011). He also has inmates living in tents in the desert, like soldiers in Iraq. Inmates also wear pink underwear and socks, the purpose of this came about because inmates were stealing the white underwear so Arpaio dyed them all pink. Some people say this is cruel and unusual punishment, but United States Soldiers work and live in worse conditions, and have not committed crimes, but do it for the freedoms afforded to United States Citizens (CNN, 1999).
Do State Prison Inmates Have Too Many Rights?
In conclusion, the answer to the question of inmates having too many rights is no, an inmate is afforded the minimum of rights allowed by Constitution. Though it could be said that a criminal who takes away the rights of another person (i.e., murder, robbery, rape, etc.) should not be afforded any rights at all. The question about inmates rights should be, instead, do inmates have too many privileges or freedoms while incarcerated? The answer to that question is yes, as proven by Sheriff Arpaio of Arizona. While each state and each facility decides what freedoms and privileges are afforded to inmates, those privileges should be minimized in order to be more focused on rehabilitation.
CNN (1999). Arizona Criminals Find Jail Too Intents. CNN U.S. Retrieved from
FindLaw (2011). Rights of Inmates. Retrieved from
Truth or Fiction (2011). The Pink-Clad Prisoners of Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona-Truth.
Retrieved from http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/m/miracopjail.htm.