What are the primary constitutional rights of prisoners? What limitations did the courts put on those rights?

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krcavnar | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Prisoners maintain some constitutional rights and some constitutional rights are limited while incarcerated.  Prisoners do not have the right to wages for their work, do not have unlimited right to privacy in their correspondence or visitations.  Prisoners do not have constitutional right to free speech while incarcerated; however, they are allowed to practice their religion of choice, receive medical care, and right to seek redress in a limited form for violation for civil rights.  The following cases outline a few of the restrictions of prisoner rights’.

In Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 104 S. Ct. 3194, 82 L. Ed. 2d 393 (1984), the Supreme Court declared that prisoners do not have a Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures of their property because the Fourth Amendment is inapplicable to them.

Block v. Rutherford, 468 U.S. 576, 104 S. Ct. 3227, 82 L. Ed. 2d 438 [1984] held that prisoners do not have a constitutional right to enjoy contact visits, as opposed to arrangements where prisoners are only permitted to talk to visitors over a telephone

Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 97 S. Ct. 285, 50 L. Ed. 2d 251 [1976] held that a prison official's refusal to provide medical care to a seriously ill inmate violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Prisoners can sue for violation of their constitutional rights, however, he most popular vehicle for prisoner lawsuits has been a federal civil rights statute, 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 (1871; recodifies 1979) which has become more restrictive in the last 10 years. In 1995 the Prison Litigation Reform Act sought to minimize frivolous prisoner law suits.  The statute requires prisoners to exhaust administrative remedies, expands the federal courts' ability to dismiss lawsuits and forbids a prisoner from filing an action for mental or emotional injury without a physical injury.

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