Although a defendant has been convicted of a crime and is sentenced to jail or prison time, he has not given up all of his rights. He is still entitled to be treated in a certain manner. Both federal and state laws have been passed to ensure that the prisoners are treated in a humane manner.
Constitutionally Protected Rights
While prisoners do lose a number of constitutional rights when they are incarcerated, such as voting, they are protected by the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution precluding cruel and unusual punishment. The Eighth Amendment ensures that the prisoner be afforded a minimum standard of living, including medical care. Prisoners are also afforded due process in their administrative appeals and the right to access a parole board. The Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides prisoners with equal protection rights. That means that prisoners cannot be discriminated on the basis of race, sex, religion, or national origin. Prisoners are also entitled to freedom of speech and religion.
A prisoner may challenge disciplinary sanctions imposed on them. The prisoner must present evidence to show that the restraint imposed on them was atypical and created a significant hardship. In order to meet the aforementioned standard, the prisoner is required to present evidence of the actual conditions of the punishment and evidence of ordinary prison conditions.
A prisoner is entitled to reasonable medical care. If prison officials are deliberately indifferent to the medical needs of a prisoner, that indifference constitutes unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain prohibited under the Eighth Amendment. In order for the prisoner to succeed on a claim of inadequate medical care, he must show that prison officials acted with deliberate indifference to his request for medical treatment. Additionally, a prisoner is entitled to medical treatment for a mental health condition with the same standard medical care applying.
Prison officials are legally required to protect the prisoner from assault and must refrain from the use of excessive force. If the prisoner is assaulted by a fellow prisoner the prison, or prison officials, may be liable. However, the prisoner must show that the prison officials acted with deliberate indifference or reckless disregard for the prisoner's safety. With respect to a prisoner's claim that prison officials used excessive force, the prisoner must show that the force used was malicious and sadistic for the purposes of causing harm. The force must be more than a very small or insignificant amount to justify relief. The prisoner is not required to show that a permanent or serious injury resulted from the prison officials' actions. Prison officials are permitted to use force in a good faith effort to try to restore discipline.
Courts tend to give deference to prison officials with respect to a prisoner's claim his rights were violated. Often times negligence or an oversight by prison officials will not be substantial enough for courts to grant the prisoner the relief sought. With respect to prison regulations that do impinge on the prisoner's constitutional rights, the courts apply a rational relationship test. That test asks the question of whether there is a rational relation to a legitimate state interest with respect to the prison regulation, if so, the regulation is upheld.