When someone is sent to prison, they may lose their freedom but they do not lose their civil rights. Prisons and corrections officers have a legal obligation to keep prisoners reasonably safe. When they fail to do so, they can be held liable. You or a loved one may be facing abuse or other risks to your health or well-being while incarcerated. Although it seems difficult to fight back, the civil rights attorneys of Hale & Monico can help.
What Is Prisoner Abuse?
There is an obvious discrepancy in power between corrections officers and inmates. Unfortunately, this relationship often gives rise to abuse and neglect. Some examples of prisoner abuse include the following:
- Physical abuse, including random beatings and other attacks
- The use of excessive force to restrain or control inmates
- Sexual abuse and assault
- Psychological and emotional abuse, including taunting and threats
- Deprivation of food or water
- Refusal to provide medical or psychiatric care
- Failure to protect inmates from others
- Failure to prevent suicide
- Unconstitutional conditions of confinement
- Racial discrimination
- Religious discrimination
- Retaliation/punishment for expressing or reporting inadequate prison facilities or treatment
Abuse doesn’t just include the intentional and wrongful acts of prison guards and other personnel. It may also encompass negligence, such as allowing dangerous conditions to fester or turning a blind eye to known problems. Because inmates are confined to the constant supervision of the prison, they necessarily rely on corrections officials for their well-being. It’s not acceptable for those officials to disregard their duty to keep inmates safe.
The Prison System in Florida
According to the Florida Department of Corrections 2017-2018 Annual Report, Florida has the third-largest prison system in the country. Florida incarcerates almost 100,000 inmates in 50 correctional facilities. Forty-five percent of the Florida prison population is comprised of black males; 35% is comprised of white males; and 12% is comprised of Hispanic males. The Florida Department of Corrections employs over 12,000 correctional officers. Like any profession, a few bad apples can spoil the whole bunch. If if only 1% of Florida’s correctional officers were “bad apples,” that would still be 120 correction officers state-wide. In 2015, the Miami Herald conducted an investigation of the Lowell Correctional Institution. That study detailed a pattern of corruption, sexual abuse and medical neglect. Lowell Correctional Institution is the largest women’s prison in the nation.
What Rights Do Prisoners Have?
We don’t often think of prisoners as having rights, but all inmates, regardless of the nature of their underlying crimes, have legal protections. For example, inmates have a constitutional right not to be subjected to excessive force by law enforcement officers in the performance of the duties. Inmates may also bring a constitution claim for inadequate medical care where prison officials exercise a “deliberate indifference” to serious medical needs. Thus, prisoners have rights to:
- The right to be free from the use of excessive force
- Adequate medical care and mental health treatment
- Reasonable accommodations for disabilities
- The right to be free from racial and sexual discrimination
- The right to consult legal counsel and complain about conditions
- Protection from other inmates
- Sanitary and safe facilities
Consequences Of Prisoner Abuse
When officials inflict abuse on inmates or allow other inmates to do so, the results can be severe. Some examples are:
- Physical injuries
- STDs, such as HIV
- Infection from other diseases
- Psychological trauma and disorders
Sometimes abuse is not as obvious, so it may not be immediately clear anything wrong has happened. Psychological and emotional abuse can happen over an extended period of time, so the consequences may not be evident right away. Relatives of those who are jailed or incarcerated should always be on the lookout for signs of abuse and neglect.
Laws Against Prisoner Abuse
The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution protects Americans from cruel and unusual punishment, and this right extends to prisoners. Various state and federal laws also expressly prevent prisoner abuse. Abuse can happen in federal, state, or county prisons and jails. Different laws may apply from one case to another, but any form of mistreatment is unacceptable. Those responsible for prisoner abuse can be held liable for substantial civil damages.
Prisoners may also need to first exhaust their administrative remedies. The lawyers at Hale & Monico can make sure an aggrieved inmate is taking the necessary steps to protect his or her rights.
Depending on the case, the abused prisoner may allege the following:
- Assault, assault and battery, or sexual assault
- Negligent security
- Negligent supervision of prison guards and other personnel
- Failure to terminate guards and personnel with a history of abuse
- Violation of civil rights
- Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs
Why Does Abuse Happen?
Every case of abuse has its own underlying facts that need to be investigated. Abuse frequently happens because of one or more of the following:
- Violent, abusive, or unstable personnel
- Lack of proper supervision
- High presence of prison gangs and violent inmates
- Understaffing of corrections officers
- Poor training of officers and personnel
- Unsanitary or unsafe conditions
- Misplacement of inmate medical records
How To Take Legal Action
If you or a loved one have been abused or neglected in prison or jail, your first step is to contact an experienced prisoner abuse attorney. The inmate can communicate with his or her legal counsel to explain how the abuse or neglect occurred and to provide relevant background information. However, this self-reporting can only go so far, and more objective evidence will need to be obtained. There is obviously little that an inmate or relative of an inmate can do on their own to investigate the abuse. The attorney’s role is to take the necessary steps to uncover the evidence needed in your case.
A critical part of the legal process is determining which individuals and entities may be held liable. This means identifying the corrections officers and personnel who were involved in the abuse or neglect. It’s also essential to determine whether the jail or prison in question is run by the government or a private company.
The number of private companies running prisons has exploded. When private companies get involved, they often seek to reduce costs and maximize profits. That sometimes means cutting essential services and limiting prisoners’ access to medical, educational, religious, and legal resources. Of course, government-run facilities can be just as abusive and neglectful. Some state and county institutions are in poor condition or use extremely outdated procedures.
There is a difference between suing a private prison and one operated by the government. All lawsuits are required to follow certain procedural, filing, and notice rules. But there are different rules when it comes to suing the government, and failure to follow them could jeopardize your lawsuit.
Contact Our Prisoner Abuse Attorney Today
The prison population is vulnerable to abuse and neglect, but you can take action to help put an end to it. The experienced prisoner abuse attorneys at Hale & Monico will take the time to listen to you and explain your legal rights. Call us today to discuss your case.