Even Prisoners Have Civil Rights

Posted on in Criminal Defense

Illinois defense attorney, Illinois criminal lawyer, your rightsA federal suit was filed recently alleging that the St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana violated the civil rights of a prisoner under its care. The suit was filed by family members of the deceased and on behalf of the deceased’s infant daughter. The deceased had been diagnosed with a rare blood disorder that can cause blood clots to form in blood vessels throughout the person’s body. The suit alleges that the 19-year-old prisoner was found unresponsive in a cell in the early morning of April 1 and, despite treatment, was pronounced dead. It was later determined that she had died of a blood clot. The suit alleges the sheriff’s office failed to provide the deceased with proper medical treatment, including prescription medication.

Prisoners Have Rights, Too

Just because a person is incarcerated does not mean he or she does not have rights. Even while serving a jail or prison sentence, the entity that has custody over the prisoner must ensure these rights are respected. These rights include:

  • The right to adequate medical treatment. Because prisoners are (obviously) cut off from the outside world, a prison or jail has a responsibility to make sure that the medical and mental health needs of prisoners are met. This can include making sure prisoners have prescription medications, receive timely treatment for injuries and conditions, and that a doctor’s orders for continuing treatment are followed.
  • The right to practice one’s religion. This right is not absolute and can be restricted by “neutral” rules designed to achieve objectives of the state. For instance, while a prisoner is free to subscribe to whatever faith he or she wishes while in prison, a jail or prison may limit certain expressions of that faith so long as it is done through rules that apply to everyone and whether the rule achieves some valid objective of the state.
  • The right to be free of environmental hazards. Being exposed to environmental hazards or toxic materials while in prison can be a violation of a prisoner’s rights under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
  • The right to receive publications by mail. Prison officials generally have a great deal of discretion in limiting the types of reading materials that prisoners can access. For instance, it has generally been held that that prisons and jails can restrict or prohibit prisoners from accessing pornographic magazines. But a prison or jail cannot arbitrarily cut a prisoner off from all publications or reading materials. For example, political literature generally cannot be confiscated from prisoners without violating the prisoners’ First Amendment rights.

Contact a Civil Rights Attorney for Help

Protecting one’s rights in the federal (or state) prison system is a delicate task. There are rules and procedures governing how these cases are to be filed and prosecuted. The Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney is experienced and knowledgeable about protecting individuals’ civil rights and liberties. Contact our experienced Chicago criminal defense attorneys today at 312-629-0669 if you need assistance.
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