If a loved one has been charged with committing a violent crime, they may have to be incarcerated while they await trial. If they make a plea deal or are found guilty, they may spend months or even years behind bars.
Many people think that incarcerated people have few, if any, rights. Certainly, many TV shows and movies portray prisons as places where inmates are at the mercy of guards and gangs. In fact, inmates have a number of rights. Among them are the right to:
- Humane conditions and facilities: People awaiting trial are to be kept in humane facilities. All inmates have a right to freedom from "cruel and unusual" punishment under the U.S. Constitution.
- Protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Freedom from sexual crimes (including sexual harassment): Prisoners are entitled to protections under the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
- Freedom from racial segregation: There may be exceptions if it's deemed necessary for purposes of security or discipline to separate inmates of different races.
- Medical and mental health care (and the right to a hearing before being transferred to a mental health facility
- Express complaints about their conditions.
Inmates' complaints about violations of their rights are governed by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). Under this law, they need to go through the appropriate internal grievance procedures before they can file a lawsuit.
It's important to understand that inmates who file what are deemed malicious or frivolous lawsuits may suffer consequences -- particularly if they've determined to have lied. These can include the loss of credit for good behavior. That can mean spending longer behind bars.
If you have a loved one who's incarcerated, it's essential that you and they know what rights they have -- and don't have. If they believe their rights are being violated -- particularly if their physical safety is at risk -- it's wise to consult an attorney.