Yes. You do have a right to personal hygiene in prison. But the laws and guidelines are not very specific. And it can be very hard to do something about it if officials deprive you of personal hygiene.
What are your rights to personal hygiene in prison?
You have the right to personal hygiene in prison. But that right is not well-defined. The BOP addresses this in the handbook they give to every prisoner. This handbook clearly states, “You have the right to health care which includes … an opportunity to shower regularly.” But it does not define what “regularly” means.
In most cases, you can shower every day. Many prisoners have access to bathroom facilities 24 hours per day. But this is not true for everyone. People in high-security prisons or in solitary confinement might have restrictions. In some cases, a prison might restrict when you can use the shower. For example, if there is a lockdown, the prison might limit when prisoners can shower. This is also true if there are concerns about the spread of a disease.
Are you required to shower in prison?
There is no law that says you must bathe in prison. But the prisoner handbook does say you have a responsibility to “follow the … shower schedule.” That means that prison staff can discipline you for not showering. Other prisoners could get angry if you don’t shower as well. You share small spaces together. If you have poor hygiene in prison, it affects the others around you.
What can I do if I’m not allowed to shower in prison?
Prison officials may deny you a chance to shower. This has happened recently. One prison system cut showers off during the COVID-19 crisis. Their reason was that showers can spread the disease.
If a prison denies you the right to proper hygiene, you might be able to sue. A judge may consider this a violation of your civil rights or cruel and unusual punishment. In that case, that could be a violation of your Eighth Amendment rights or other laws.
But, before you sue, you should try to handle it internally. In many cases, you must. Your prison will have a policy for complaints. They prefer to handle problems this way. Completing this process is often required before you can file a lawsuit. If you don’t, judges can dismiss your case without a trial.
You can sue under the Federal Tort Claims Act. This act permits people to sue certain government officials. Tort law is complex, but here are some basic principles to know:
- You can only sue certain federal employees in certain circumstances.
- The wrongdoing must be part of the official’s job.
- You must ask for a remedy, which can include money.
You have a right to maintain personal hygiene in prison. The handbook every prisoner receives mentions this. But the language is not very specific. If you feel that a prison official or institution deprived you of this right, you may want to consider filing a lawsuit. But you’ll have to go through the prison’s administrative process first.