Some of your civil and legal rights are lost when you go to prison. Many rights are very limited while you are incarcerated. But you don’t lose all of your rights. And you can restore some of those rights once you finish your sentence.
Do you lose your rights when you go to prison?
Some of your civil rights are lost when you go to prison. For example, in most states, you won’t be able to vote. You also won’t be able to own or even possess a firearm in many cases.
Inside the prison, many of your rights will be extremely limited, too. But, you will have basic rights to food and water, to good health, to have an attorney and protection against racial harassment and torture. Many things that would be a violation of your constitutional rights outside of prison are legal inside.
For example, guards do not need a warrant to search you or your belongings. Outside prison, this could be a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. But inside prison, it isn’t. In prison, guards can also prohibit you from assembling with others. That would be a violation of your First Amendment rights outside.
Which rights do you keep when you go to prison?
In theory, you keep most of your constitutional rights when you go to prison. But in practice, that might look different. For example, you still have your Sixth Amendment rights to a fair trial. But prisons can still discipline you without going through court. This could include things like putting you in solitary confinement.
You also keep your Eighth Amendment rights in prison. These protect you from “cruel and unusual punishment.” But different people argue over what this means. Some say that solitary confinement counts as cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court hasn’t issued a decision clearly deciding the issue one way or the other. But it is still a common practice in American prisons.
People in prison do have other rights. You have the right to practice your religion. In most cases, a prison must accommodate your religious beliefs. That includes things like your diet, clothing and reading materials. You also keep your right to have an attorney represent you.
Can you get the rights you lost back after you leave prison?
You can get some of the rights you lost back after you leave prison and complete your sentence. This is called restoration of rights. The process for doing so depends on where you live. Different states have different rules about who can have their rights restored.
For example, in California, you get your voting rights back as soon as you finish your sentence. This includes any parole or probation you may have to serve. But in Iowa, you can’t get your voting rights back unless you petition the governor directly.
The crime you were convicted of also plays an important part. If you are convicted of any domestic violence charges, you could lose your gun rights forever.
Restoring your legal and civil rights is a complex issue. An attorney can help you understand which rights you have lost. They can also help you understand if you can restore them and how you can do that.
Some of your rights get lost when you go to prison. Others may be severely limited. Even the rights you have will look different in prison. You can restore some of your rights after release. Which rights and when depends on which state you live in. They all have different rules and processes. The charge that you were convicted for can also affect which rights you can restore.