prisoners' rights - american flag

According to the US Bureau of Justice, over 2 million adults are currently detained in the country’s prisons. And the more people we have incarcerated, the higher we see statistics of inmate abuse and prison neglect. Criminals do not give up all of their rights when they become imprisoned — they actually have several rights to protect them from the abovementioned abuses.

Freedom from Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Thanks to the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, citizens are to be free from any practice that could be considered cruel or unusual punishment. Essentially, this means that prisoners should not be treated in an inhumane way. This also includes inhumane executions like being drawn and quartered, beheading, and burning alive. While the definition of what is considered to be cruel and unusual is up for interpretation, inmates have the right to question whether their punishment fits the crime.

The Right to Complain About Living Conditions

Prison life is a far cry from ordinary life, but inmates have the right to question their living conditions, and have access to the proper channels in order to make their voices heard. This right assists prisoners in having a voice regarding the conditions in which they live which, in turn, makes it more difficult for prison authorities to neglect them. This right helps hold prison authorities accountable for the living conditions within their prisons.

First Amendment Rights and Freedom from Discrimination

Imprisoned individuals retain their First Amendment rights, such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. This means that the prison authorities are unable to silence their prisoners and completely limit their freedom of expression in terms of both statements and various expressions of religious belief. The law also states that inmates must be free of any institutionalized discrimination due to factors like race, religion, age etc. This ensures that all prisoners are treated equally regardless of personal or perceived differences.

The Right to Proper Medical and Mental Health Care

Inmates are entitled to what is considered to be “adequate” medical care. Like many things regarding prisoner’s rights, what is considered to be “adequate” is up for interpretation. However, prisoners are required to have access to some form of medical and mental health care. This right, in particular, is intended to fight issues like prisoner abuse and neglect, as prison officials are held responsible if prisoners are not provided with the necessary care. Those with disabilities are also required to be accommodated due to the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Along with the aforementioned rights, American prisoners are to be provided with what are considered to be basic human rights — food, shelter, and clothing — as being incarcerated does not make them any less human.