Inmate Rights in Other Countries Thesis

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¶ … inmate rights in other countries with those in the United States. In the United States, inmate or prisoner rights are guaranteed according to several different Amendments of the Constitution. Inmates are guaranteed everything from a speedy trial to health care and personal safety. Even in America, that does not always occur, however. There are numerous references to violations of prisoner rights throughout the courts in the United States, as there are in many other countries. Prisoner rights continue to be a contentious, thorny problem for the criminal justice system, and denying prisoners' rights in the U.S. often leads to costly lawsuits that financially strap states and local governments. In many other countries, prisoner rights are essentially non-existent, indicating the wide range of criminal justice and incarceration standards around the world.

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Thesis on Inmate Rights in Other Countries With Those Assignment

In the United States, prison inmates enjoy human rights that do not exist in many foreign countries. This has not always been the case, as one criminal justice expert notes. He writes, "At one time, convicted prisoners were considered slaves of the State. Like slaves, the state afforded them no rights and no access to the courts. In fact, during the 1800s, many states instituted a convict lease system, leasing many or all of their prisoners to the highest bidder for a fixed sum" (Guidice, 2002). However, prison reforms throughout the 20th century have resulted in more inmate rights, and for a time resulted in numerous frivolous lawsuits filed over grievances as trivial as the type of peanut butter served to inmates (Guidice, 2002). The courts were most often the ones involved in deciding prisoner rights issues. However, in 1996, Congress became involved in prisoners' rights issues, and passed the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PRLA), which severely limits when and how prisoners can sue for damages while in prison. Some called the law "anti-inmate," but it reduced inmate lawsuits by 50% in the five years after its passage (Collins, 2007, p. 14). This has helped ease a burden on the criminal justice court system, but it has not completely eliminated lawsuits retarding rights or violations of prisoners' rights.

These violations can be extremely costly for state and local governments. Author Collins continues, "The Constitution protects inmates, and courts will hold jail administrators, county commissioners or supervisors, and even counties accountable for violation of inmates' rights" (Collins, 2007, p. 11). It is the very nature of incarceration to deny certain rights to the individual, and in early prisons, this was part of the reform and reeducation process. As another author notes, "Prisoner rights activists within and outside the walls confront a conservative popular discourse that pathologizes prisoners and emphasizes the punitive dimensions of imprisonment over its reformative potential" (Mendoza, 2003). In other words, popular opinion, for the most part, does not support the idea of prisoner rights, especially for inmates convicted of particularly heinous crimes such as murder, rape, or child molestation, and so, many prisoners in the United States and around the world tend to have their rights violated with little change of retribution or stopping the practice.

While it may seem that inmates have gained substantial rights in the 20th century (and they have), there are still many cases of abuse and punishment that make it into America's courtrooms. One decision, Hope v. Pelzer in Alabama, made it all the way to the Supreme Court, who ruled that prison guards who handcuffed inmate Larry Hope to a "hitching post" for seven hours after a fight acted cruelly and unusually (Chin, 2003). A criminal justice expert writes that this creates a system of increased "judicial intervention" in prisoner rights cases and in the operation of state and local prisons. She writes, "In sum, Hope is a decision that moves the Court in the direction of increased judicial intervention in state prison policies and practices. However, such intervention may be warranted when a state such as Alabama has continuously allowed its executive and legislative branches to neglect the constitutional rights of it inmates" (Chin, 2003). Thus, prisoner rights are still an issue in this country, as they are in many countries around the world, because there are still pockets of abuse, violence, and subjugation among prison guards and administration.

One of the most disturbing areas of prisoners' rights is the common practice of rape in both juvenile and adult detention facilities. The editors for Human Rights Watch conducted an exhaustive three-year study into male rape in U.S. prisons, and published a well-documented report on their findings. They note, "No conclusive national data exist regarding the prevalence of prisoner-on-prisoner rape and other sexual abuse in the United States. Indeed, few commentators have even ventured to speculate on the national incidence of rape in prison" (Editors, 2001). Even more disturbing are the allegations that juvenile detention facilities are also involved in numerous rape scenarios. In 2003, President Bush signed the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. As part of this legislation, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics began to develop new national data collection on sexual assault inside juvenile and adult detention facilities; however, the data has not yet been fully compiled (Beck, Harrison & Hughes, 2004). The situation clearly exists, however, and further studies into the prevalence and how to prevent this situation could lead to more aggressive policies on prison rape and lead toward increased prisoner safety and rights in that area.

Another important area of inmate rights are the rights of female inmates, especially in the areas of pregnancy, health care, and rape. Several cases have made it to circuit courts around the nation regarding a prisoner's right to procreate (both men and women). Author Guidice concludes about this issue, "Because 'no "iron curtain'" separates prisoners from the Constitution, prisoners must be allowed to exercise the right to procreate, 'fundamental to the very existence and survival of the race,' free from 'unjustified government interference'" (Guidice, 2002). The courts have upheld this view in several cases, allowing male prisoners to artificially inseminate their non-prisoner wives, and women to become pregnant in prison. In this area, the United State may be far ahead of many other countries in the prisoner rights arena.

Criminal rights are an issue around the world, and there have been charges of prisoner neglect and abuse in many countries. Many countries fall far short of the standards of human rights in countries such as the United States, but there are some countries that appear to extend a greater range of legal protections to prison inmates than the United States does.

Australia

In the 1970s, Australian prisons were known for their brutality and psychological manipulation. One of the worst was the Katingal Special Security Unit, which kept prisoners in total isolation via electronic monitoring and control. The prison was so bad it created prison revolts and threats of inmate suicide, and the government stepped in to investigate. An author notes, "In the 1978 Royal Commission investigation into NSW prisons (Australia's most comprehensive inquiry into prisons), Commissioner Justice Nagle (1978) dubbed Katingal an 'electronic zoo' and recommended its closure" (Carlton, 2006). While Katingal closed, Australia still supports other super-maximum security prisons with a reputation for violence and cruelty toward inmates, there are numerous citizens and inmate watchdog groups active in Australia even today, and Australia does not offer or appear to offer a greater range of legal protection to prisoners than the United States does.

Canada

In 2004, the Canadian courts ruled that inmates were citizens, even if they were temporarily removed from society, and thus, they enjoyed the right to vote. Their decision read in part, "Denying prisoners the right to vote imposes negative costs on prisoners and on the penal system. It removes a route to social development and undermines correctional law and policy directed towards rehabilitation and integration'" (Muntingh, 2004). Canadian inmates have several options open to them to file grievances regarding their rights, but some studies indicate these options are ineffectual. One writer advocates creating a Federal Inmate Grievance Tribunal that would rule on certain grievances (Patrick, 2006). This indicates a concern for prisoner rights that may be unable to be fulfilled at the present, but will improve in the future. A similar tribunal might be effective for many grievances here in the United States, as well.

England and Wales

The United Kingdom has long been known as a liberal society, and some of that liberalism trickles down to their outlook on prisoners' rights. They define these rights as, "Perhaps above all, a rights-based culture demands prison conditions that are humane, healthy and constructive, both for staff and prisoners" (Eady, 2007, p. 265). That has not always been the case, however. Before legislation in the 1990s, prison conditions were poor, and there were several prisoner riots in English and Welsh prisons. Reformers passed legislation to ease conditions, and even involved prisoners in the change process. However, public opinion does not always support increased prisoner rights, and this has been the case in Great Britain. In fact, even though there have been… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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