All Men are Created Equal–Even Prison Inmates
It is perhaps the part of the United States Declaration of Independence that stands out most strongly to many, many people who are familiar with its contents.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” The phrase is used now, over two centuries later as a declaration that, no matter who we are, where we come from, what we look like or what we believe, we are all equals.
So it comes as an unfortunate surprise to some people that prisoners in United States federal prisons also retain some rights granted to them by our governing bodies. If one is convicted of a crime and forced to spend a period of time in prison, yes, his or her rights will be, to some degree, restricted. For instance, felons in some states lose their right to vote, and cannot legally purchase or own firearms, as background checks prevent felons from exercising their second amendment rights.
While still in prison, prisoners also lose the general right to privacy, as prisoners are (understandably) monitored, and open themselves to warrantless searches of their person and prison cells while incarcerated.
But, more importantly than the (relatively) few rights that a prisoner loses are the rights that they retain. Included on this list are the rights that restrict cruel and unusual punishment, and the rights granted by the first amendment (with certain restrictions for safety in place).
The sustained right to avoid cruel and unusual punishment guarantees prisoners not only livable and humane conditions within prisons, but limitations on the punishments of those found guilty of crimes. While punishments like disembowelment or drawing and quartering an inmate seem out-of-date, incredibly inhumane and not even within the realm of question today, the same general idea applies to all punishments. Anything that can be deemed “inhumane” is outlawed.
The conditions within a prison, including the living quarters, meals and sanitation all need to fall within certain regulations as well to avoid being considered inhumane.
While prisoners can–and almost always do–have their mail vetted and searched, so long as their correspondence does not interfere with their status as prisoners (planning escapes, mailing tools, weapons or other contraband to inmates), prisoners are still guaranteed these first amendment rights.
Some people question the fact that prisoners are given healthcare of any kind. They question why their tax dollars are being used to treat the illnesses of convicted felons–everyone from money launderers to murderers. However, these prison inmates are not only prison inmates, they’re also human beings. All human beings, regardless of any extenuating circumstances, deserve the right to receive treatment for their illness, whether they are mental or physical. Correctional Medical Care and similar prison correctional medical care providers provide this health care to inmates because prisoners, whether some people know it or not, do in fact retain many of their human rights.