People convicted and incarcerated for crimes they have committed have constitutional rights, even while serving prison terms. Still, constitutional violations in prisons and jails are common.
Police brutality, mistreatment and neglect of inmates while in state custody are the subject of frequent lawsuits by inmates and, in some cases, their families if the inmate has died due to these practices.
Incarcerated people often suffer in silence while serving prison terms without recourse. Examples of violations of incarcerated people’s constitutional rights include:
- Ignoring mental health issues
- Addressing inmate misconduct inappropriately (using pepper spray or shooting them with pepper balls)
- Solitary confinement for years on end
- Inadequate healthcare
- Inadequate nutrition
- Lack of social interaction
- Denial of the inmate’s right to physically move and exercise
What rights do inmates have?
When protecting their constitutional rights, inmates are usually not high on people’s minds. However, the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Cases around the country have shown how cruel our prison system can be and how much an inmate can suffer at the hands of correctional officers.
What does “cruel and unusual punishment” mean?
Opponents argue that correctional officers can determine the appropriate treatment for an inmate depending on the circumstances and that many of these practices are not cruel nor usual.
For example, suppose two inmates engage in a physical altercation. In that case, correctional officers should stop the fight, separate the inmates and even provide a correction.
Cases across the country show repeatedly how the violation of inmates’ constitutional rights takes place. For example:
- An inmate who experiences numbness in her limbs asks for medical attention and she is denied. Years later, she receives a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, which proper medical care could have addressed years before. The disease progresses, and she is now bedridden and unable to move, see or eat.
- An inmate with schizophrenia, held in solitary confinement without appropriate legal justification, remains in those conditions despite clearly suffering from delusions. The correctional officers respond to his head-banging by pepper-spraying him instead of transferring him to the appropriate mental health unit for treatment.
Inmates serving prison terms are not devoid of all rights, and the Constitution clearly states that. The courts around the country need to order prisons and jails to stop violating inmates’ rights.
Additionally, staff working in prisons and jails should receive adequate training to understand the difference between what treatment is permitted by law and what is not.