What Rights Do Prisoners Have in California?
Being imprisoned does not mean that a person loses all of their rights. Prisoners in California have specific rights afforded to them under the United States Constitution and state law. Incarcerated individuals and their family members should understand these rights so they can seek legal advice if the prison system violates an inmate’s rights.
California courts typically give prison officials and the California Department of Corrections broad discretion when managing prisons and inmates. However, if prison officials violate the law or the Constitution, the court can hold them responsible by acting on the prisoner’s behalf.
Basic Rights of Prisoners in California State Prisons and Other Correctional Facilities
As a civilized society, we treat prisoners humanely. As such, incarcerated individuals have fundamental human rights when they are in county jail or prison. Some of the basic rights inmates have include:
- The right to humane conditions. Prison conditions do not have to be comfortable, but they should have working toilets, running water, and be free from insect infestation and other hazards to human health.
- The right to adequate mental health and medical care. The Corrections and Rehabilitation Department does not have to provide state-of-the-art health care for inmates. However, they should have access to care that prevents cruel and unusual punishments.
- The right to nutrition. It does not have to be the best food or food a prisoner likes. However, prisons should provide healthy food that meets an inmate’s dietary needs.
- Freedom from discrimination and sexual harassment.
- The protection against the use of excessive force and assault, including sexual assault. The Prison Rape Elimination Act established a zero-tolerance policy for rape in United States prisons.
The protection against cruel and unusual punishment under the Eight Amendment covers basic needs and care. However, it does not mean that prisoners must be treated as if they were guests at a facility. It does mean that prisons should take steps to protect inmates from known harm that could be considered inhumane.
The Right to Due Process
Prisoners do not give up their right to due process when they are incarcerated. Prisoners continue to have due process rights if they are subject to disciplinary proceedings while incarcerated.
For example, an inmate has the right to be notified of their charges against them in advance of a hearing on the matter. In addition, they have the right to present evidence and call witnesses on their behalf during a hearing.
An inmate has the right to assistance in preparing a defense, but that does not include the right to legal services from an attorney. They have the right to a written statement regarding the evidence used against them to reach a decision and to have a decision made by an impartial decision maker.
A recent court ruling found that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation continues to violate inmates’ due process rights regarding indefinite solitary confinement.
Personal Rights of Prisoners in California
Prisoners in California retain some personal rights, but those rights are subject to providing a safe and secure environment for prison officials and other inmates. Therefore, the prison system can infringe upon some rights that people who are not in prison enjoy.
Disabled prisoners have the same rights as any other disabled person under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA does not specify that it only applies to individuals who are not currently incarcerated. Therefore, disabled inmates have the right to adequate medical care and equal access to prison facilities and programs.
The prison can curtail some rights if it impacts safety and security. For example, inmates might have the right to receive mail. However, their mail is subject to being opened and inspected to ensure the security of the prison.
Likewise, prisoners have no right to privacy within their cells. Prison officials can randomly search prisoners’ cells and belongings for weapons, drugs, and contraband.
Prisoners have the right to attend religious services. The choice to participate in a religious program is voluntary. Prison officials make reasonable efforts to provide for the spiritual and religious welfare of prisoners.
What Is the Difference Between Prisoner Rights and Prisoner Privileges?
It is important to distinguish between prisoner rights and privileges. A prisoner’s rights are guaranteed by a state’s constitution, the U.S. Constitution, or statutes. Rights cannot be suspended without due process.
On the other hand, privileges are conditionally granted to inmates. Therefore, they are not guaranteed and can be revoked at any time. Furthermore, not all inmates have the same privileges.
Prisons may grant privileges for numerous reasons. Privileges can provide entertainment and mental stimulation. It can also give inmates the opportunity for social interaction and personal growth.
Some facilities grant privileges as an incentive for good behavior. Likewise, they take away privileges for poor behavior.
What Can a Prisoner Do if They Believe Their Rights Have Been Violated?
If your loved one is incarcerated and has not been tried for their crimes, they need a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer immediately. An attorney works to secure the person’s release from jail pending their trial. The lawyer also works to protect their client’s legal rights, including the right to a fair trial.
Criminal defense attorneys investigate the circumstances of an arrest to determine if a person was the victim of police misconduct. A lawyer can use evidence of police misconduct and violation of rights to petition the court for a dismissal or for evidence to be inadmissible in court.
A prisoner can write letters to the court and file documents with the court if they believe their rights have been violated. However, the best course of action would be to have a family member or friend contact a civil rights attorney for help. A civil rights lawyer can advise the inmate of their rights and options for filing a legal claim in court.
Call for a Free Consultation With a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer
As a defendant, you have the right to counsel. Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorney works to protect your right to a fair and just outcome in your case. Contact our law attorneys at The Rodriguez Law Group to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with a lawyer. Call us at (213) 995-6767.
Last Updated on November 2, 2022