People who are in jail awaiting trial or who are completing a prison sentence might feel like their constitutional rights are left on the other side of the door the moment they enter. But this is not true; incarcerated individuals still have constitutional rights. This includes basic human rights, such as adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.
Prisoners also have the right to freedom from dangerous conditions and physical abuse, including freedom from excessive force by police officers and prison officials. According to guidelines set forth by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, prison officials cannot use force to cause harm if it is done maliciously or sadistically—even if the resulting injuries are not serious.
Abuse or neglect of inmates and prisoners can be a violation of civil rights, and victims may have grounds to bring a civil rights lawsuit. If you or a loved one is experiencing neglect or abuse while incarcerated, you have the right to an attorney who can fight to protect your legal rights.
Prisoners Have Rights
Although movies often portray prison abuse and brutality as permissible, in real life, prisoners have rights. These include:
- Access to adequate medical care
- Access to legal materials
- Freedom to exercise religious beliefs
- The right to send and receive mail
- The opportunity to have a classification hearing before transfer
- Access to rehabilitation programs
- Protection from assault from other prisoners
- Access to humane living conditions that include adequate toilet and shower facilities, basic hygiene items, and sanitary food preparation, among others
They also have the right to bring a civil lawsuit against prison officials or the government if they are being mistreated.
Recognizing Abuse and Neglect
Jail neglect and abuse can come in many forms, including:
- Verbal abuse, such as provocative taunting, name-calling, or racially charged language
- Physical abuse, such as overuse of restraints, Tasers, or pepper spray
- Sexual abuse by prison guards or other prisoners
- Refusing basic rights, such as visitation, medical aid, food, or exercise time
- Destroying a prisoner’s property out of spite
- Being punished for filing a complaint about a prison guard or official
There is no denying that police officers, prison officials, and prison guards hold a significant amount of power and authority over inmates. Incarcerated people who are suffering from neglect or abuse may be hesitant or even afraid to take action that could help improve their situation. In some cases, prison officials might try to talk inmates out of seeking legal help. But you must act to stop abuse and neglect because it will likely continue if you do not.
Potential Damages in a Prison Abuse or Neglect Case
Prisoners whose constitutional rights are being violated because of abuse and neglect can invoke their rights and pursue legal recourse. There are two remedies for the victimized inmate that are most common:
- Injunctive relief. Lawsuits that pursue an injunction usually seek to relieve the conditions that led to the abuse or neglect, such as reducing overcrowding, firing or transferring abusive prison guards, or changing policies to protect against inmate-on-inmate abuse.
- Monetary damages. These damages are intended to compensate the abused inmate by covering the violation of civil rights as well as the cost of medical treatment and pain and suffering. Monetary damages are more difficult to recover in these types of cases.
In some cases, the court may apply punitive damages, which are intended to punish the prison official or facility for their wrongdoing.
How an Attorney Can Help
Seek protection for yourself or a loved one from the trauma that jail neglect and abuse create. Finding the evidence to back up a case of prison abuse or neglect is not easy because the prison has control over everything that happens within. Prison officials might also raise obstacles to prevent the collection of damning evidence.
An experienced attorney can help gather evidence and advocate on the inmate’s behalf, then file a civil rights lawsuit. Contact attorney Ben Crittenden to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.