Articles Tagged with prisoners rights

A new proposed bill in the state of California, A.B. 2466 now sits on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for his approval. The bill would redefine who is entitled to register to vote, with the intent of restoring voting rights for the many ex-offenders within the state.

Today, racial minorities remain disproportionately excluded from voting as a result of the documented bias in drug law enforcement and sentencing. The “war on drugs” and subsequent decades of mass incarceration have blocked millions of people out of the electoral process. In California prisons, three out of every four men are either African American, Latino, or Asian American. African Americans, who comprise less than 7% of California’s voting-age population, currently represent 28% of those who cannot vote because of felon disenfranchisement.

Voting rights in the rest of the country depends on the state law. For example, two states, Maine and Vermont, allows felons to vote while behind bars. Fourteen states restore voting rights after a prisoner has been released from prison.

Arrested for stealing $5.05 worth of candy and soda, a 24-year-old man from Portsmouth, Virginia, Jamycheal Mitchell, has allegedly been starved to death by prison guards. Mitchell has been repeatedly diagnosed with psychotic and delusional disorders, has allegedly been left to starve in squalid prison conditions. His aunt, Roxanne Adams, has filed a lawsuit against the prison.

It is reported that his medical records show that he died of a “heart condition “accompanying wasting syndrome of unknown etiology.” The lawsuit alleges that “jail staff had allegedly denied him many meals, cut off the water to his cell and left him naked with no bedding or shoes as he smeared feces on the window of his urine-covered cell.” He had lost 40 pounds in his time in Hampton Roads Regional Jail, and was “nearly cachetic.” The lawsuit also alleges that inmates pleaded with guards to help Mitchell, to no avail.    

The 112 page complaint identifies 39 defendants, including the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, the state Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services and the private prison health care firm, NaphCare. Adams is demanding a jury trial and $60 million in damages for wrongful death. The prison is not commenting on the suit.

Ammon and Ryan Bundy have filed for an administrative hearing over what they claim are ‘deplorable and unconstitutional’ conditions. According to the document filed by their attorneys, the Bundys argue that their first amendment rights are being violated because they are not free to assemble nor practice their mormon religion by engaging in religious activities or wear religious garments. They further allege that they are “being denied access to materials and resources reasonably required to defend their respective cases.” Perhaps more surprisingly, the Bundys are also alleging a violation of the second amendment rights because guns are not allowed in jails for prisoners. According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, they are considering suing the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office to get possession of their weapons.

Rights of Prisoners

It is obvious that prisoners have fewer rights and freedoms while incarcerated. Some rights, however, are still guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The eighth amendment prohibits conditions for prisoners that would be considered “cruel and unusual” punishment, although that term was not clearly defined at the time of the Constitution’s signing. Generally, any type of treatment that would reasonably be considered inhumane and in violation of basic human dignity would violate constitutional law.

Prisoners are also supposed to enjoy certain first amendment protections, such as the freedom of religion. However, they do not have the same level of rights as free citizens. Rights such as ‘protesting’ or ‘assembling’ may be restricted under Rational Basis Review. This just means that there is a “valid, rational connection” between the prison regulation and the legitimate government interest put forward to justify it. Such regulations are not considered unconstitutional as long as the regulations apply to all inmates in a neutral fashion.

Lastly, all inmates at the state and federal level have the right to:

  • Be free from sexual harassment and assault;
  • Be free from racial segregation (unless deemed necessary for the safety of prisoners); and
  • Receive adequate medical care.  

Unfortunately many of these freedoms are violated regularly. Continue reading