Jump to Navigation

Prisoners' Rights

Prisoners do not have the same rights as persons who are not incarcerated. However, prisoners still have the protection of certain constitutional rights.

Prisoners are entitled to due process in decisions that discipline them, classify them, or otherwise create additional restrictions on their liberty within the prison system. Due process considerations often require that a prisoner receive advance notice of charges brought against him, which may further restrict his liberties. Sometimes a hearing may be required where the prisoner can present evidence, introduce witnesses, and cross-examine witnesses testifying for the state.

If the government seeks to transfer a prisoner to a mental institution, the prisoner must be given notice of the proposed transfer and his rights regarding that transfer. Those rights include the right to a hearing before an independent tribunal and written notice of the reasons for the tribunal's decision.

Although prisoners' rights to property and privacy are limited, they are entitled to some protections against infringement of those rights. If government action results in the loss of property, for example, the prisoner's rights may have been violated.

Example: A prisoner is injured. While in the hospital, the prisoner's property in his or her cell is stolen. Because the prison had control over the prisoner, the cell, and the property, a court may find that the prison must take steps to protect the property while the prisoner is away.

Prisoners' privacy rights are not as comprehensive as the rights of persons outside of prison. However, it is against federal law to eavesdrop on and disclose the contents of a private phone conversation. This protection applies even where one of the parties to the conversation is in a federal prison.

A prisoner who contends he or she has been wrongfully imprisoned is entitled, after meeting certain requirements, to petition a federal court for a writ of habeas corpus. A writ of habeas corpus is a court order demanding that a prisoner be released. In order to make this right meaningful, a prisoner must have access to the court system. This includes access to a law library or someone trained in the law. A prisoner generally has the right to meet with his or her attorney. However, a prisoner can be limited in the number of times he or she appeals his or her case or petitions the court for a writ of habeas corpus. These limitations do not violate the prisoner's constitutional rights.

The Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment protects prisoners from prison conditions that are barbaric. Prisoners must have adequate food and medical treatment. Additionally, prisons mare limited as to the number of prisoners that can be held in one cell.

Many of the other constitutional protections provided to non-incarcerated individuals also apply to prisoners. For example, prisoners are entitled to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. However, the government's interest in a secure prison environment may justify restrictions on those freedoms, which would not be allowed outside a prison. Prisoners are entitled to make requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Prisoners are even afforded some minimal protection against unwarranted searches and seizures.

Preparing to Meet With a Criminal Defense Attorney

To read and print out a copy of the checklist, please follow the link below.

Preparing to Meet With a Criminal Defense Attorney

You can download a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader here.

Copyright © 2008 FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters business

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent counsel for advice on any legal matter.

Back to Main