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Prisoners’ Rights in California

Posted in Criminal Defense on July 29, 2019

After an alarming increase between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, California’s prison population has declined. Nevertheless, almost 130,000 men and women are behind bars in California prisons. This number does not include the thousands of inmates in county jails, mand of whom are simply waiting for their trial dates.

SInce almost all prison inmates have been convicted of felonies, they do not have the same rights as people in the free world. However, California and federal law still provide a number of important protections.

Although prison rights violations are normally civil matters, an attorney may be able to leverage alleged rights abuses into a modification of sentence or some other form of relief.

Civil Liberties

For the most part, prisoners still enjoy basic freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment and other Constitutional provisions. However, prison officials have considerable discretion to limit the time, place, and manner of these rights.

Normally, to restrict liberties like freedom of speech and the right to bear arms, the restriction must pass a strict scrutiny test. That’s the most strenuous evaluation in Constitutional law. But in prison, such restrictions must only survive a rational basis inquiry. In other words, the restriction must have:

  • A logical connection to
  • A legitimate state interest.

In the free world, the rational basis test only applies to municipal ordinances and other statutes which do not involve a fundamental right or a protected class of citizens.

Inhumane Conditions

The law never tolerates excessive force of any kind. However, the law also narrowly defines the excessive force.

Generally, prisoners do not have excessive force claims unless they have severe injuries. So, if a correction officer uses a racial slur and shoves Steven to the ground, Steven probably does not have an excessive force claim.

However, Steven might have another claim in that situation. The guard’s racial slur was clearly discriminatory. Furthermore, its use probably would not pass even the rudimentary rational basis test. The same thing applies to sexual abuse claims.

Prisoners have other basic rights as well. For example, they have the right to be free from crowded or dirty conditions. 

Solitary confinement is a matter of serious concern as well. Such confinement often serves little or no legitimate purpose. 2015’s Ashker v. Brown supposedly limited solitary confinement in California. But U.S. District Judge Robert Illman recently ruled that the California Department of COrrections was not fulfilling the promises it made. So, the matter is once again in court. 

Medical Care

Almost all prison inmates will eventually be released. So, if they do not receive proper medical treatment in prison, society must pay their healthcare costs. Therefore, for everyone’s good, prisoners need quality medical care. This care applies not only to physical conditions, but mental and emotional ones as well.

Proper healthcare begins with protections against personal injuries. Furthermore, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care maintains standards which apply in areas like the number of beds and the number of medical professionals on staff. Failure to meet these standards may give rise to legal action.

Partner with a Dedicated Lawyer

Prison inmates are Americans too. For a free consultation with an experienced Riverside defense attorney, contact Graham Donath Law Offices, APC. We have offices in Riverside and Irvine.