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Understanding Prisoner’s Rights: An Overview

Written by Cooper & Friedman PLLC on February 23, 2021

People in prison may have access to basic rights under the constitution, but they don’t have equal protection under the law. Although there are a number of protections and legal actions that can be pursued in certain incidents of abuse or inequity, the process is often very complicated to carry out due to the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996. Whether you’ve been in prison, you have a loved one in prison, or you’re simply curious about advocating for prisoner’s rights, keep reading to get a comprehensive overview of prisoner’s rights.

Prisoner’s Rights

All prisoners have the right to fundamental liberties afforded under the United States Constitution. Prisoners have “…the right to humane facility conditions, freedom from sexual crimes, freedom from racial segregation, the right to express condition complaints, the rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the right to medical care/attention, and the right to mental health care.”

The only time a prisoner’s basic constitutional rights are altered in a lawful manner is through the penal system itself. For example, prisons have a right to seize personal property, such as mail, and perform random searches. In all other instances, however, violation of a prisoner’s fundamental rights is illegal.

Provisions Under The Prison Litigation Reform Act

If you believe that your rights as a prisoner have been infringed upon, you have a prerogative to pursue legal action. However, under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, there are a many steps and difficult requisites you must take to ensure your case is followed through.

The first effort is referred to as: “Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies.” According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), this means you must resolve your complaint through the prison’s grievance procedure. You must take a written description of your complaint or grievance to an official. If the official provides you with more steps, like appealing to a warden, you must follow through with this as well. If you try to sue in federal court before exhausting the prison’s grievance procedure, it is quite possible your case will be dismissed.

The Prison Litigation Reform Act also asserts that the prisoner must pay all court fees in full, starting with at least 20% at once. This can be a tremendous, if not impossible, financial burden on prisoners. If a judge throws your case out for being frivolous or malicious, you get a strike. Three strikes, and you must immediately pay all court fees in order to file another suit. This can seriously inhibit the development of legal action.

The final key point under the Prison Litigation Reform Act is that you can’t sue for mental/emotional injury unless you also sustained physical injuries in prison. This makes it near impossible for you to sue if you were “only” mentally or emotionally abused.

Following the onset of the Prison Litigation Reform Act in 1996, the number of prisoners pursuing legal aid dropped by 60%. Furthermore, the percentage of prisoners who sued and actually succeeded dropped as well. These numbers indicate the challenges spurred by the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Further reform is necessary for prisoners to have equal protection under the law in America.

What Type Of Attorney Helps Prisoners With Legal Issues?

Civil rights attorneys focus on a range of cases that may involve prisoners including

  • False arrest
  • Excessive use of force
  • Jail beatings
  • Prison death
  • Police sexual harassment
  • Wrongful prosecution or conviction

All U.S. citizens have basic rights which protect them and their loved ones from this kind of misconduct. If someone violates those rights, a civil rights lawsuit may be available. Victims can seek compensation for injuries and other damages. This can help hold the appropriate law enforcement personnel and their agencies responsible. Your civil rights attorney will help you seek compensation which may include medical expenses, lost wages (past and future) and physical and mental pain and suffering. A Plaintiff may also be entitled to punitive damages (additional damages intended to punish those responsible and prevent them from harming others) where the conduct is particularly harmful.

If you, a loved one or friend believe these fundamental rights have been violated by law enforcement in the state of Kentucky or in Southern Indiana, reach out to Cooper & Friedman Attorneys At Law today at 502-459-7555 to schedule a free consultation with a civil rights attorney.

Posted Under: Civil Rights Law

Contact Cooper & Friedman Attorneys At Law today at 502-459-7555 to schedule a free initial consultation