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Prisoners’ Rights

  • Author(s): Reiter, Keramet A.
  • et al.
Abstract

Prisoner's rights are those rights that individuals retain after they are found guilty of a crime and sentenced to a term of confinement in a prison or jail. In the United States, prisoner's rights include both positive rights, such as the right to challenge a criminal sentence and the right to challenge conditions of confinement within prison, and negative rights, such as the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and the right to be free from discrimination.

Most prisoner's rights are civil rights, meaning that a prisoner must file a lawsuit against a specific individual or agency and seek a particular remedy, such as a change in policy or a payment for damages suffered. In such cases, prisoners often represent themselves (pro se), initiating and pursuing their own legal challenges. The development of prisoner's rights in the United States can be divided chronologically into roughly three different eras of progress: limited rights in the early republic and 19th century; an expansion of rights in the mid-20th century, especially during the Warren Court, when courts broadened civil rights in general; and a contraction of rights in the late 20th century, especially after 1996.

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