Cruel and Unusual Punishment

1116 words | 4 page(s)

The legal mechanism in which an inmate can challenge his or her confinement is under federal stature 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983. A section 1983 allows the prisoner to sue for violations or deprivation of rights that have taken place under a guard, supervisor, warden, or a local authority that owns the prison where he or she is confined. Due to the number of frivolous lawsuits that were filed, the Supreme Court in the early eighties required prisoners to use tort claims rather than filing in a federal court. This made it harder for prisoners to bring forth suits because it required more standard of proof (Prisoners’ Rights).

In 1995 the prison Litigation Reform Act was instituted by Congress. Under the statute prisoners were supposed to exhaust all possibilities at the administration and local levels before they brought a section 1983 action. This further restricted prisoners’ rights because in order for them to bring a suit for emotional injury, they had to show proof of a prior physical injury. The Act also imposed several fees and fines on the attorney if the courts decided that it was a frivolous lawsuit. The prisoner now had to pay filing fees and be pre-screened and federal court to take away any credits the prisoner had earned for good behavior if the lawsuit was deemed frivolous (Prisoners’ Rights ).

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Another way a prisoner can file with the federal government in order to remedy violation of prisoner right is to file a habeas corpus. It was traditionally used by a prisoner that was being held against his or her will illegally. This caused some prison reform because the government did not want to set convicted felons free, it preferred to improve prison conditions (Prisoners’ Rights ). The habeas corpus review was limited by the 1996 Anti-terrorism and Death Penalty Act because the limitations on whether prisoner could file was limited to only one year, and it usually took that long for a final appeal to take place (Prisoners’ Rights ). Neither would it allow a prisoner to go back and dispute the original reasons why he or she was incarcerated. Therefore, unless a prisoner has met all of the above conditions, it will cost the state too much money for pursuing a claim because the purpose of these laws is to prevent an overload of taxpayer funded cases that will end up being thrown out anyways.

There are several different management issues that arise as a result of inmates with special needs. One of the main issues is the age of the people being incarcerating in the 21st century prison system (NEW YORK CITY BAR ASSOCIATION, 2011). The criminal justice system is incarcerating an increasing number of young offenders, those who are just over the age requirement for juvenile detention. This presents a serious problem because the vast majority of these prisoners have never known anything but crime and the criminal justice system. The youths that are taken off the street end up in and out of prison on a revolving door basis. Most likely, one or both of their parents have spent time in jail or prison, and as a result, the son or daughter ends up in the criminal system also. Prison management ends up having to be a surrogate parent to these youths (NEW YORK CITY BAR ASSOCIATION, 2011).

One recommendation to remedy this situation is to have a program in place where first time offenders can go through a class on the basics of living their lives crime free. This could be funded by the local government, and would likely cost less than paying for them to be incarcerated. Another management issue is the number of prisoners who are unable to read or write. This is certainly an area that can be classified as special needs because without reading and writing skills, the prisoner will be unable to get a decent paying job and pay taxes. There is no educational requirement for selling drugs or engaging in prostitution. Since there are little or no opportunities for someone without a high school education, that person usually ends up in the criminal justice system. One way to effectively neutralize this situation is to offer a literacy program to inmates so they can earn a high school diploma, and give inmates that participate in this program credit towards good behavior, thus hastening their release from custody.

Management also has to deal with inmates who are mentally ill. In fact, many inmates suffer from mental health issues in part due to the environment in which they were raised (Colpean & Iverson, 2009). Some of them were physical and emotionally abused, and as a result have become abusers. Management should have mental health providers on staff to address the underlying issue that are causing emotional problems. This includes access to psychiatric drugs, and therapy.

Inmates, especially as they age experience deterioration in their physical health (Colpean & Iverson, 2009). This costs the state and local government an exorbitant amount of money. There is really nothing that the prison can do to eradicate this situation, but having programs in place that teach the inmate the importance of eating right and exercising is a step in the right direction. Providing more nutritious food in the cafeteria rather than food filled with starches and carbohydrates can benefit the inmates, and potentially reduce the amount of funds allocated to medical resources.

Supermax housing violates offenders’ right against “cruel and unusual punishment,” as guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Supermax confinement practices remain unchecked by the courts. Supermax confinement is the most demeaning way for prisoners to be treated. Even if the inmate has committed atrocious, murderous crimes he or she should not be deprived of civil liberties (NEW YORK CITY BAR ASSOCIATION, 2011). The practices that go on in Supermax facilities are basically torture and humiliation. The courts do not think that treating prisoners in such a way is unconstitutional no matter how severe the punishment. The Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution provides that people who are incarcerated should not endure cruel and unusual punishment. Keeping someone in lockdown for 23 hours a day and in solitary confinement for days at a time is not constitutional regardless of what the courts say (NEW YORK CITY BAR ASSOCIATION, 2011). There is the rare case when a patient is diagnosed as mentally ill, and that person will be taken out of the Supermax confinement institution and placed in an institution where he or she can get psychiatric treatment.

There needs to be a concerted effort on the part of concerned citizens that know about these practices to lobby their congressman so that laws can be enacted to protect prisoners from being tortured and humiliated and denied their Eighth Amendment rights.

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