Prisoners Law and Legal Definition

Prisoners are persons confined in prison after being convicted of crimes. Even the most chronic or hardened prisoners have basic rights that are protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Some of the rights of inmates include:

The right to be free, under the Eighth Amendment, from inhuman conditions because those conditions constitute "cruel and unusual" punishment.

The right to complain about prison conditions and voice their concerns about the treatment they receive. They also have a right of access to the courts to air these complaints.

Limited First Amendment rights, such as freedom of speech, which are not inconsistent with their status as inmates and which are in keeping with the legitimate objectives of the penal corrections system, such as preservation of order, discipline, and security. Prison officials are entitled to open mail directed to inmates to ensure that it does not contain any contraband or weapons, but may not censor portions of correspondence that they find merely inflammatory or rude.

Prisoners do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their prison cells and are not protected from "shakedowns," or searches of their cells to look for weapons, drugs, or other contraband.

Prisoners are entitled, under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution, to be free from unauthorized and intentional deprivation of their personal property by prison officials.

Although prisoners do not have full Constitutional rights they are protected by the Constitution's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, so that they must be afforded a minimal standard of living. Prisoners are therefore protected against unequal treatment on the basis of race, sex, and creed and have due process rights of appeal under the 14th Amendment. Prisoners also have limited rights to speech and religion.

State prisoners have no rights to particular classifications under state law and state prison officials have broad discretion in the classification of a prisoner once he or she is convicted -- i.e.: maximum vs. minimum security, solitary confinement, etc.