Inmates Rights and Special Circumstances

CRJ 410 Corrections

Strayer University

There are several ways in which an inmate can challenge his or her confinement. These arise in different manners from conditions of the correctional facility to claims of injustice that may have occurred during their trial and conviction. When an inmate chooses to challenge their confinement, the cost can, and in most cases, lands on the shoulders of the state or federal government especially in instances where these jurisdictions are found accountable for violations concerning inmate rights.

One of the methods an inmate uses to challenge their confinement is through the filing of a habeas corpus action. Habeas corpus, or the Great Writ, is the legal procedure that keeps the government from holding you indefinitely without showing cause (, 2018). When an inmate challenges their detention by filing a habeas corpus petition, the state or government must explain its justification for holding them. This is an exhausting, expensive, and time-consuming procedure that most often is dismissed because the inmate has been found guilty and is just making last ditch efforts at possible freedom. Counsel is only provided by the state or government in death penalty cases which means that this can be expensive for the state/government in every single petition filed. Although many of these petitions are frivolous in nature, sometimes the courts do find an error which will either exonerate the inmate or lessen their punishment.

Another method used by inmates to show a violation of their rights has occurred would be by filing a state civil torte lawsuit. This is a difficult task for an inmate because they must demonstrate that the prison violated their rights and that the violation caused an injury. This is difficult to do to public prisons at the state or federal level. Volokh (2014) stated, “federal public prison inmates have to deal with the limitations of the Federal Tort Claims Act, and their state counterparts are similarly restricted by various state immunity doctrines and statutes. By contrast, private prisons, are generally amenable to suit on state-law tort grounds, and the available tort theories are often more generous to plaintiffs than constitutional theories.” This means that private prisons are more susceptible to being exposed to state tort law.

A third way for inmates to challenge the legality of their confinement is through a federal civil rights lawsuit. A federal civil rights lawsuit can be brought over holding prisoners in outdated prisons that are unsanitary or unsafe, sexual harassment or assault of prisoners by prison guards, punishing a prisoner for complaining about the prison to outside parties, subjecting a prisoner to torture or other forms of cruel and unusual punishment, and denying a prisoner medical attention, or providing inadequate medical attention or facilities (, 2018). An increase in the transparency and accountability of prison guards would help increase the likelihood that prisoners would be granted their civil rights. However, the existence of prisons managed by for-profit corporations, makes this difficult to accomplish. Additionally, restrictions placed on prisoners’ rights, including their freedom to read and write material of their own choosing, or practice their religion, would only serve to exacerbate their condition. This would make it even more challenging for them to become rehabilitated and re-join society. Furthermore, subjecting prisoners to solitary confinement for several consecutive hours without any human contact, and without any exposure to natural light, can cause mental illness. Moreover, placing such restrictions on prisoners can be expensive. If the focus of prisons was on prisoners’ safety and rehabilitation, prisoners would be less likely to endure civil rights violations and save the facilities millions.

Inmates with special needs require more attention from correctional staff which brings with it, specific issues for management. Special needs represent those with mental illness, substance abuse and addiction, the elderly, and the terminally ill. Those inmates who suffer from mental illness or addiction can present staff with major concerns of safety when they are generally displaying violent or disruptive behavior. To help alleviate this issue, the prison can add a special unit that is equipped with specially trained staff and medical professionals who can attend to these inmates. By removing these inmates with special needs from the general population, the safety level for other inmates and officers becomes stable. Another group of special needs inmates that bring issues with them is the elderly and aging inmate. These inmates can often become targets of inmate abuse due to frustration in having to care for them. As a person ages, many routine maintenance issues become a challenge in a correctional facility due to the lack of proper equipment and medical doctors. A solution to this would be to release the elderly inmate to either family, or a state-run nursing facility. A final group of special needs inmates are those with HIV or any other terminal illness. Many facilities lack the medical needed to treat those who are suffering from these types of issues. Medication alone is super expensive and oftentimes traded to other inmates for certain amenities. The recommendation for this issue is similar to that of inmates with mental illness, a separate unit that is specifically dedicated to the hospice care of terminal inmates and those who require medications several times a day.

The use of supermax housing brings up controversy among many. The Supreme Court ruled that prison inmates have a constitutional right to not be put in Supermax prisons if it’s not necessary (Shapiro, 2005). Supermax facilities are extremely restricted environments, with virtually no human contact which leads many to believe that they do violate the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution right against “cruel and unusual punishment. According to Shaley (2011), “solitary confinement was a highly problematic practice that at best failed to reform prisoners and at worst caused serious mental health problems and that is a violation of their rights.” Craig Haney, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who specializes in the mental health of inmates said, “For some prisoners less resilient, solitary confinement precipitates a descent into madness (2012).” At least half of all prison suicides in the US occur among the 3 to 8 per cent of the prison population who are held in solitary confinement at any one time (Bond, 2012). Various studies have found that between 22 and 45 per cent of supermax inmates suffer from serious mental illness, marked psychological symptoms, psychological breakdown or brain damage (Lovell, 2008). This proves to be a major violation of the Eighth Amendment right against “cruel and unusual punishment” and if the use of these types of facilities are necessary, then their solitary confinement time should be limited not prolonged.