When a person receives a prison sentence, this does not negate his or her civil rights. In fact, as the American Civil Liberties Union points out, the U.S. Supreme Court has explicitly stated people in prison still have the same fundamental rights protected by the Constitution as those who are not incarcerated, including the right to have legal representation and access to the court system.
Unfortunately, isolation, lack of resources and other barriers often prevent prisoners from asserting their rights or protecting themselves from violence or abuse at the hands of their guards. The New York Daily News reports on one such case that resulted in a settlement for an inmate of Rikers Island, New York City’s primary jail.
Three corrections officers working at the Rose M. Singer Center allegedly perpetrated the abuse of a woman incarcerated there. She filed an action in federal court charging the three guards, who, she claims, took advantage of her inability to protect herself, assaulting her repeatedly over a period spanning several months during 2015 and 2016.
According to the report, investigators from the Bronx district attorney’s office already knew of other claims of abuse involving one of the guards in the case, and the NYC Department of Investigation also began investigating. The inmate consented to wear a recording device to gather evidence of the abuse. She expressed concern for her own safety in remaining in the same circumstances. Recordings revealed the abuse continued.
Although authorities eventually transferred the woman to another facility, she is not likely to see justice served in her case. The city settled the case rather than allowing it to go to court, and there are, consequently, no charges against the officers. The settlement required each guard to pay $750, but as of the date of the report, the facility still employed them. Currently, they no longer have contact with prisoners, and two of the guards may lose their jobs.
The settlement included $425,000 for the inmate, but sources say she may not get to keep it all.