Rights of an Arrested Person
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Do Prisoners Have Rights? If So, What Are They And Are They Fair?

Oftentimes, most people don’t think of criminals as having any sort of rights once they have committed any type of crime. These rights seem to be abandoned and forgotten because rehabilitation just is not an option.

Many inmates are serving sentences for crimes they did not commit. Other inmates are serving inordinate sentences for trivial offences.

Whether they are young and chose the wrong paths or simply just made mistakes by hanging out with bad crowds, everyone deserves a second chance.

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Do Prisoners Even Have Rights? If So, What Are They?

People tend to believe that once you have been placed in custody, you lose your rights for good. This is simply not true.

Even up to the very point of being arrested, you still have your basic human rights. And you should be informed of them.

Your rights, as stated in the Fifth Amendment Miranda Rights, include the following:

  1. You have the right to remain silent and not answer any questions
  2. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law, which is why you should follow #1
  3. You are entitled to have an attorney present while you’re being questioned
  4. If you cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint one for you at the state’s expense
  5. No matter the nature of the crime, you are entitled to be TREATED HUMANELY
  6. The law states that you are innocent until proven guilty
  7. You are owed the right to speedy trial by the state
  8. Your Eighth Amendment rights state that at no time shall you suffer any cruel and unusual punishment while imprisoned

The criminal justice system of the United States frequently infringes upon these rights from the very beginning. Oftentimes, your essential rights as a human being are violated and you are not treated ethically. And you are almost always treated guilty until proven innocent.

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When someone goes to jail, his or her rights clearly become abridged. However, this does not mean that inmates are without basic human rights in the US. Even the most habituated criminal has basic rights protected by the U.S. Constitution.

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The US Constitution & the Rights of the Incarcerated

Sadly, this is proven time and again and shown on the news on an almost daily basis.

For example, racial profiling generates innocent kids to get gunned down since police allege that items taken out of their pockets may have resemble a guns. It’s always a cell phone or hand held gaming device for example.

While incarcerated, a person’s rights vary somewhat depending on few things like what stage in the criminal process they may be involved in and where they may be imprisoned.

Inmates pending trial have the right to be accommodated in humane dormitories. They cannot be punished or treated as guilty while they await trial. 

Prisoner’s Rights: Cruel and Unusual Punishment in the US

The Eighth Amendment protects everyone, including prisoners, to be free from barbaric treatment or anything that could be treated as “cruel and unusual” punishment. Sadly, it does not clearly define exactly what cruel and unusual would include.

However, the Supreme Court has held that such punishments include:

  • Beheading
  • Burning Alive
  • Disemboweling
  • Drawing and Quartering
  • Public Dissection

Prisoner’s Rights: Sexual Harassment & Sex Crimes

Just because they are in prison does not mean that inmates should be subjected to any form of sexual harassment or sexual crimes. Actually, they have rights just like you and I, to be free from it.

This administers to crimes or harassment from one or the other, inmates or prison personnel. The courts have held prison guards, prison administration, and even government officials responsible for allowing sexual things in nature to occur.

They may have even gone as far as instituting programs of consistently exposing such conditions on inmates. Horrendous acts of this type can carry both civil and criminal penalties and sanctions against those who take part.

Prisoner’s Rights: Right to Complain About Prison Conditions & Access to the Courts

If inmates have concerns or worries about conditions of the prisons, they are encouraged and have the right to complain and have their voice heard to the courts, prison officials and administration.

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Some inmates have been placed in solitary confinement after complaining about prison conditions or speaking up about their rights. Check out the video below for details.

Rights of an Arrested Person
Rights of an Arrested Person. Image Source: Near Law

Prisoner’s Rights: Disabled Prisoners

Inmates with disabilities are permitted to certain legitimate accommodations under the American with Disabilities Act. This ensures that disabled prisoners get the same access to prison and facilities like those that are not disabled.

Nonetheless, the accommodations are based on need only and must be within reason.

Prisoner’s Rights: Medical and Mental Health Care

Prisoners are entitled to receive medical care and mental health treatment. Just like with the accommodations for the disabled, these treatments need to be only reasonable. For example, if some has a small cavity, they may be entitled to a filing, but the whole tooth may end up being pulled.

Often times, even those with very dangerous illnesses like AIDS or even cancer will only receive the minimal treatment necessary to keep them comfortable, not to extent their life or combat their illness.

First Amendment Rights for Prison Inmates

Prisoners possess basic First Amendment rights (i.e., free speech, press and religion) only to the range that the exercise of those rights do not hinder with their status as inmates.

If a prisoner’s efforts to exercise their First Amendment rights meddle with the appropriate intentions of the correctional facility, like security, discipline and order, generally they will be cut back.

Subsequently, prison administration and officials read emails, open and read incoming mail and screen outgoing communications. This is all done to ensure that items do not contain any messages that could interfere with the prison’s goals.

Prisoner’s Rights: Free from Discrimination

Prisoners have the right to be free from discrimination while in serving time, just as they do on the outside.  This includes all of the following:

  • Fair treatment based on ethnicity or religion
  • No racial segregation

Video: Kalief Browder Gets a Beat Down from Adult Inmates & Rikers Guards

Kalief Browder was a 16-year-old boy when he was thrown in the adult prison known as Rikers Island for allegedly stealing a backpack. He was held on an affordable bail, and never given a trial date.

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During his three years in the New York adult prison, Kalief Browder spent over two years in solitary confinement, still with no trial date set. While in Rikers, he was beat by prison guards and a gang of adult men incarcerated at the facility. 

The video below shows Rikers guards appearing to try to get the adult prisoners under control. But many say they did very little to protect the teen. Check out the beating of Kalief Browder in the video below:

What are the Rights Inmates Do Not Have?

Ordinarily inmates generally lose their right to privacy while incarcerated. Inmates are not guarded from warrant-less searches of their person or cell. Prisoners do keep their Due Process rights and are free from the deliberate taking away of their property by prison officials. 

Yet, this does not include any form of contraband. Likewise, even if part of a work release program, inmates generally are not subject to employment laws like minimum wage requirements. In fact, most are paid pennies per hour, with many not getting paid at all.

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People need to start treating prisoners like humans. It is valuable to remember that prisoners are still people first. This is never going to change. Justice Anthony Kennedy says:

When the prison gates slam behind an inmate, he does not lose his human quality; his mind does not become closed to ideas; his intellect does not cease to feed on a free and open interchange of opinions; his yearning for self-respect does not end; nor is his quest for self-realization concluded.

Do you believe these prisoners’ rights are fair? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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Merri Wong
Merri Wong has had an interest in law and social studies since her early days in life. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Paralegal Studies, and currently works as a freelance writer. Her writing portfolio includes numerous topics from reviews to relationships, from mental health to marriage. Merri currently helps report the news for Prison Rideshare Network.