What is the scope of privacy that should be afforded to inmates by law?
Prison reform is a high priority for our society, mostly due to overcrowding and racial inequalities, but also due to the political pressure from victims’ advocates. Whether an inmate’s “punishment” includes loss of privacy is (practically) in the hands of the warden, who can withdraw the “privilege” of conjugational visits, for example, based on his or her staff’s assessment of the prisoner’s “cooperation” during incarceration. Currently, then, privacy is a “privilege,” not a right. Of course, the necessity for security and safety preclude any claims for privacy in the matters of strip searches, body cavity searches, and the like. Privacy in the cellblock itself is a physical impossibility and is given up when the prisoner begins his or her incarceration. Mail censorship has always been assumed; phone calls, especially in-prison visits, are regularly monitored, even recorded, and to date the Constitutionality of such standard practices has not been challenged in court. So, prima facie, privacy is rescinded as an integral part of incarceration. The 104th Congress has even protected the federal courts from law suits by prisoners who claim their right as citizens have been abused. Of course, abuses by authorities occur.