Constitutional Rights Of Prisoners In The United States Course Work Examples

Published: 2021-06-21 23:48:03
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A controversial issue of human rights in the United States (US) is the question of whether or not a prisoner is entitled to rights under the Constitution. Presumably, a prisoner in the US has lesser constitutional rights due to criminal charges against him. Part of the punishment a prisoner receives from committing criminal acts is the denial of his freedom through prison detention that lasts depending on the sentence the court has issued. As per initial impression, it would seem that a prisoner has become less than a normal citizen due to his status as a legally detained individual. The fact that a prisoner has severely limited movement due to imprisonment helps raise the question on the kinds of rights the Constitution has for him (Palmer, 2010; Powers, 1983).

There is a clear understanding that prisoners, unlike other citizens, do not enjoy full entitlement to constitutional rights. However, that does not justify prison officials from subjecting prisoners to maltreatment. The Eighth Amendment expressly addresses said concern, stating that there must be no excessive punishments inflicted on prisoners. Therefore, prison officials have the responsibility to provide prisoners with just the right amount of living needs while under detention. Similarly, prisoners have the right to assert due process in appealing for their case and figure in procedures leading to parole. Presuming that prisoners are serving their sentences issued by trial courts, they may push their case to the appellate courts as a matter of exercising their right to due process. Prisoners also have the opportunity to come under review for parole, although they do not have the power to demand it. Parole officers decide whether prisoners deserve freedom subject to various conditions. If paroled prisoners violate the conditions issued by parole officer, they face the prospect of returning to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence. Moreover, prisoners should not receive unequal treatment due to their sex, beliefs and race, as based on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and affirmed by the Model Sentencing and Corrections Act (Palmer, 2010; Powers, 1983).

Limits to constitutional rights greatly differentiate prisoners from conventional citizens of the US. Among the limits prisoners face with regard to constitutional rights is on speech and religion, since both could generate actions that may compromise prison security and may cause unwanted provocation. Prisoners also have no right to assert that they belong to certain classifications defined by the nature of their confinement. Prison officials have the discretion to decide the kind of confinement conditions that would best suit prisoners. If prison officials think that the behavior and background of a certain prisoner necessitates his placement inside a maximum-security compound, then they may do so without fearing any backlash from the courts. Both Congress and the courts recognize the need to grant discretion to prison officials in deciding on prisoner classifications. Prison regulations are also discretionary on the part of prison officials, provided they do not produce unconstitutional issuances. Should there be accusations against constitutional violations related to prison regulations the courts may use the rational relationship test – the most basic level of judicial scrutiny, to see whether such have rational relevance to any state interests (Palmer, 2010; Powers, 1983).

Functions of Prisons

The understanding that prisoners have limited constitutional rights brings forth the functions of prisons into due consideration. Chapter V, Title 28 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) defines the regulations of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBP). A noteworthy point of attention in the CFR is the prohibition on media interaction with prisoners, with the presumption that such may trigger unregulated speech that may cause provocations (Palmer, 2010; Powers, 1983). As a matter of discipline and productivity, prison officials subject prisoners to forced labor, given that they have to render something in return for their mistakes while remaining in prison. Prisoners who defy orders on forced labor receive a penalty for solitary confinement. Furthermore, prison officials should hold themselves responsible over granting and maintaining constitutional rights that apply to prisoners. Prison officials may not subject prisoners to maltreatment, discrimination and brutal actions, for there is an understanding that prisons are reformative establishments that aim to serve as a fitting consequence for the commission of particular crimes (Roberts, 1997).

Balancing Constitutional Rights and Prison Responsibilities

Prevalent throughout the information in previous sections is the importance of upholding the interests of the US in relation to the imprisonment of those who have committed criminal acts. The state plays an important role in inflicting retribution against people who have committed crimes, especially as a manner of showing its seriousness in upholding the rule of law and maintaining order in the nation. The denial of some constitutional rights to prisoners is justified in that the practice thereof might undermine the concept of imprisonment. The discretionary power of prison officials in deciding the conditions of confinement of prisoners is in line with the state interest of ensuring the effectiveness of imprisonment. Prisoners still hold the right to due process because of the possibility of details that may change the nature of their sentence. The principle of justice thus comes into play to signify the interest of the state on upholding the rule of law. The right of prisoners to speak out through the formal process of issuing appeals before the appellate courts is consonant to their rights against discrimination and unfair treatment in terms of the notion of justice, apart from the fact that imprisonment stands as a reformative experience (Palmer, 2010; Powers, 1983; Roberts, 1997).


Palmer, J. (2010). Constitutional rights of prisoners (9th ed.). New Providence, NJ: Matthew Bender & Company, Inc.
Powers, E. (1983). Constitutional rights of prisoners. Rockville, MD: National Institute of Justice.
Roberts, J. (1997). Federal Bureau of Prisons: Its mission, its history, and its partnership with probation and pretrial services. Federal Probation, 61(1), 53-57.

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