When it comes to prisoners’ rights in the United States there is good news and there is bad news. Let’s start with the bad news: American prisoners do not have access to full Constitutional rights. Now for the good news: There numerous ways in which the Constitution does protect prisoners — especially when it comes to the Eighth Amendment.
The Eighth Amendment says that prisoners have the right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. This requires that prisoners be given a minimum standard of living. Under the Supreme Case, Brown v. Plata, for example, California prisons were forced to adhere to prison population limitations to prevent overpopulation. Overpopulated prisons result in poor living conditions, which the Supreme Court viewed as a violation of Eighth Amendment rights in the case.
Prisoners also have the Constitutional right to due process related to administrative appeals and the right to the parole process, in which they could be given early release from prison if a panel of judges approves. The Fourteenth Amendment — particularly its Equal Protection Clause — also protects prisoners from unequal treatment due to sex, creed and race. The Model Sentencing and Correction Act also protects prisoners from discrimination based on sex, religion, race and national origin. Prisoners further have the right to religion and speech as long as their religion and speech do not interfere with their status as prisoners.
If you feel your rights as a prisoner are being violated in any way in New York, or if you feel you or a loved one are being abused in prison, a civil rights lawyer may be able to improve your conditions by advocating on your behalf.