Should Prisoners lose their Constitutional Rights while in Prison
As the number of prisoners increase within the prison systems today, a question has risen on should prisoners lose their constitutional rights while in prison. Constitutional rights are the rights that are granted to the citizens by the government. These rights can’t be taken away legally. The way a prisoner is treated is not based on their behaviors or what crime they’ve committed, but is left up to the administrators of the prison. “In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the federal courts began to oversee state prison systems and develop a body of law dealing with prisoners’ rights. During the 1980s, however, a more conservative Supreme Court limited prisoners’ rights, and, in the 1990s, Congress enacted laws that severely restricted litigation and post-conviction appeals by prisoners”. (freedictionary.com) for you who don’t know, a prisoner is anyone deprived, or disadvantaged of personal liberties against their will following their conviction of a crime. Though they can’t do everything that we know a free person can, they are still guaranteed a minimal or certain amount of rights. Before they are sentenced there’s a due process of law that must take place. If they’re found guilty, then is when they will sentenced and referred to as a prisoner; and some of their rights they had as a free citizen is taken away.
In past history the way prisoners have been treated was not constitutional. In some prisons, prisoners were dehumanized to the fact they were treated like animals. This was not the right way but because the authority lay in the hands of the deputy and well as the staff of the prison, it was yet acceptable. Courts were hesitant on setting standards regarding prisoners and the way they were to be treated. Some believed the authority to interpret such things were against their will, which left it in the hands of the others (prisoner employees). As the years passed by the experience inside of prisons became intolerable. This called for the courts to then come into action. It wasn’t until the late 1960’s that courts decided that prisoners were entitled to minimum rights. Before they are official sentenced many of the now detainees are locked up or jailed before their actual trial period. During the pretrial period the pretrial detainees, even have a certain amount of rights. Just as any other citizen, the pretrial detainee may NOT be deprived of any of their rights listed with in the constitution of the United States, besides the right to come and go as they please. When it became that the treatment of the prisoners was still unacceptable the courts then criticized the lower federal courts on giving too much power to the administrators within the systems. As I interviewed a couple people on should prisoners lose their constitutional rights, one answered saying, “I personally think a prisoner should lose their constitutional rights while incarcerated, because when they were free they took advantage of the same rights. Not saying that we should dehumanize them because yes, they are still human beings, but what about the ones, who aren’t committing crimes, should they still get the same privileges as those, or should they not be granted those while in prison where there is maximum security, and they’re already limited to certain things.” Hearing that response brought the question up about “do you feel as if some prisons’ authorities take advantage of the power they have at hand? She responded, “ as a former prisoner worker I can honestly say that some of the employees, as well as the administrators abuse their powers, some prisoners are treated in an unacceptable way, but because of that, I still do not believe they should have access to their constitutional rights while locked up.” –Dionne Burns After hearing her response I noted down her statements and thought upon them. Whether in prison or not we are Americans, but what makes us Americans American? Is it the rights we have as “citizens” or is it the type of government we posses? It came up that what makes us Americans American cannot be truly answered, because being an American is a set of beliefs or ideals.
This topic has two sides, and they are primarily based on the beliefs of that particular individual. This is how I knew they were, because as I interviewed the next person based on the same questions his response was, “No, when prisoners are incarcerated they should not lose their constitutional rights, because they are guaranteed those in the constitution, so that when they enter the judicial system as criminals they are still entitled to the same rights as any other citizen. Being a prisoner in the past, a lot of my rights were taken away illegally. Yes, I committed a crime, but I was still a human being, as well as a citizen of the Land of the Free. Was it right that I was deprived of who I was? No. Could I have done anything about the way I was feeling at the time? No, because in the eyes of the “free” I was a bad person, because of the mistake I made. After being released, since I was a convicted felon I couldn’t vote, and when I had personal property there were certain things I couldn’t have access to. I didn’t even have privacy. I felt as if I was an animal.” – Vernon Davis Once again I noted down his response and pondered on it. The question came about do prisoners get the equal treatment by the law as other? Living in America, we are a democracy which means equal treatment by the law, but are the prisoners entitled to that same “equal treatment” or is it just the free? The laws should be enforced regardless of the social stature or status of the individual, which means that any circumstances when determining the benefits or penalties of a person should be ignored or granted to a certain person because of who they are or what they have done; but the same actions should be taken to each and every individual of the United States free or incarcerated.
Upon conviction some believe that the government does not make sure that the rights that are granted to everyone is enforced to everyone. Some believe that the rights are inherent which makes us all human, and if they aren’t inherited then they aren’t human, which means they shouldn’t be treated as humans. I interviewed one last person and their response to my question, should prisoners lose their constitutional rights while in prison was, “ Yes, when a person feels as if they can commit a crime to harm something or someone in a particular way their constitutional rights should be taken away until their sentence is over. I stand firmly on this because; when they had their rights they didn’t value them enough to not do any harm. Everything in life is a choice, if you choose to do something that could affect your life in a way you may be limited to certain things as a human then you don’t deserve them. I’ve been in the system before and I felt as if everything that I had taken away from me I should have, because of the mere fact I chose to do wrong and jeopardize it.” – Shermara Taylor. After hearing all sides of the story and studying the points I noted down from each I took a side of the argument based on fact, rather than emotion.
Based off the responses of the people I interviewed, and viewing both sides of the argument I’ve chose a side. I do not think that prisoners should lose their constitutional rights while in prison. I chose this side, because whether a person is a detainee or not they are still considered a citizen of the United States. Not saying that as a human being it’s ok to harm a person or their property, but at the same time a person should not be deprived of the rights they are guaranteed. If a person can get their rights taken away it comes about are they constitutional or natural. Natural rights are the ones that government does not provide, yet can restrict the exercise of them. So if a prisoner loses their “constitutional” rights, are they really constitutional, or are they just natural? I also believe that as a citizen of the United States the Declaration of Independence provides a very clear statement that says “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” By that I believe that the government’s job is to protect those rights from being violated by other citizens or governments at other levels, whether incarcerated or not. So for a person to lose their constitutional rights while in prison is unconstitutional. I believe that as a person does wrong they should be punished because if not then everyone in the world will feel as if they can do something and get away with it, but the punishment should be to a certain extent. The way a person views themselves or their self image may cause them to act in an unethical behavior. A person who has a strong sense of themselves do not do unethical things, versus a person that isn’t very secure with who they are. Does that make what the one who’s not aware of their self image is doing acceptable?
No, but at the same time that does not mean that they should lose their rights as a human. Few people may feel as if they’re average, while others feel like they’re superior which cause a feeling of injustice that then leads to unethical behavior. That does not mean that the person is bad, but there was a certain trigger that pushed them to the point to react. True enough, everything is premeditated, so yes before a person commits a crime they’ve thought about it, as well as the consequences of that crime. Just as the government enforce there’s a due process of law, they must enforce the definite rights of the people of the U.S. As a citizen of the United States I know that once you’re a convicted felon you cannot vote. That’s not ethically right because that 15th as well as 19th amendment grants the right for one to vote. Even though not all of the constitutional rights of a prisoner are taken away, is it fair that they have a few while the rest are privileged to them all?
While in prison, prisoners are still granted the right to due process of law, minimum standard of living, right to parole process, as well as the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. According to Wex (www.law.cornell.edu) prisoners are protected from unequal treatment based on their race, sex and creed. Are the administrators protecting the prisoners as they should be? No, because in some prisons, prisoners are being dehumanized and stripped away from their constitutional rights. Some prisons do not allow prisoners any to have the personal property they are guaranteed such as: watches, tobacco products, snacks, or toiletries, because they believe it will start up theft or gambling, but it’s a part of their constitutional rights to be able to have access to those things. Another constitutional right that prisoners are not granted is the right to free speech, which is the 1st amendment in the Bill of Rights. Prisoners are degraded and disciplined by employees for openly speaking on mistreatment within the system. Is this ethically right? No, because as the 1st amendment grants us this right.
Since a person refuses to live by society’s rules, they do not receive the full benefits of the rest of the society when they become a felon. That’s understandable, but why grants constitutional rights that are said “can’t be taken away”, yet they still are. So to take away prisoners’ constitutional rights I think is unethical. Equality under the law should be highly enforced within every individual of the society. As long as they’re living, no one person should be treated better or badly because of the crime they committed. If we were to commit an offense would we want our rights taken away? We have to look at it from other prospective before we make a final decision and that’s what I did.
Bill of Rights
Declaration of Independence – Preamble