How To Justice

Can You Be Discriminated Against in Prison?

Can You Be Discriminated Against in Prison?

It may feel like you don’t have rights behind bars. Your rights may not feel the same as they did outside of prison, but you do still have a number of rights. Discrimination in prison is against the law. It’s important to know your rights and what to do if staff discriminate against you.

What Does Discrimination in Prison Look Like?

Discrimination in prison can look like a lot of different things. If staff treat you differently because of your race or religion, that’s wrong. They also can’t deny you services simply because you have a disability. There are many laws that describe the protections you have in prison.

Discrimination in prisons.
Image courtesy of syahrir maulana via Getty Images.

For disabled inmates, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the American With Disabilities Act protect you. These laws say that prisons have to give you the things you need to complete major life tasks. This includes special cells for those in wheelchairs. It also includes the right medicines and mental health care.

Inmates also have a right to practice religion in jail. That means that staff must let you practice your religion You should have access to things like your holy book. If your religion includes a special diet or scheduled prayers, staff should meet those needs as well.

Does Discrimination in Prison Include Harassment From COs?

Staff cannot harass inmates for any reason. But that doesn’t mean staff can’t ask you to do things that you don’t like. Strip searches and cell searches are legal. Staff don’t have to warn you about these searches. They do have to follow strict rules during the search, though. If they don’t, you can file a complaint. You can also report staff if you think they target you. Staff who target or focus on inmates for no reason are harassing them.

Discover whether it's legal to harass prisoners and discriminate against people in prison.
Image courtesy of Motortion via Getty Images.

Even if a CO harasses you, the court may not see it as discrimination. Sexual harassment is against the law, but it’s not always discrimination. You can talk to a lawyer if you think staff discriminate against you. They can help you understand the best way to file a complaint. A lawyer can also tell you if your Eighth or Fourteenth Amendment rights have been violated.

How Do I Report Discrimination in Prison?

You can report discrimination to a correctional officer, or to other prison staff. If you are afraid of certain staff, you can report the discrimination to any other staff or to the warden. A lawyer can help if you want to file a formal complaint. The judge may not look at your complaint if you don’t follow the right rules in your report.

Remember that the first goal of all prison staff is to keep inmates safe. Sometimes they make choices that you may not like. This is not the same as discrimination. Because very few cases win in court, make sure you have proof that staff are targeting you. You should also have proof that you tried to fix the problem with staff first.

The Takeaway:

Discrimination in prison is real, and it does happen. You have legal rights, and staff have to treat you fairly. Not all harassment is discrimination, though. Make sure you have proof if you want to report an issue or file a complaint.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Legal Disclaimer: How to Justice cannot provide legal advice, representation, referrals, research or guidance. Nothing on this page is intended to or may be relied on as legal advice. If you or a loved one believe you need legal advice, you should contact an attorney.