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New York Prison Rights Lawyer

Some may question whether prisoners have rights that should be projected. Afterall, they are in prison because they were found to have broken the law. However, it's important to understand that even though inmates have broken the law, as inmates they still have certain rights protected under New York and federal law. Abuse of prisoners is both morally wrong and against the law.

Despite being incarcerated, individuals have the right to be treated with a degree of humanity and fairness. If you suffered serious injuries as a result of being abused while incarcerated at Rikers Island, Bedford Hills, or any other correctional facility in New York, seeking the assistance of an experienced New York prisoner rights lawyer is critical. Contact Stephen Bilkis & Associates. We can guide and support you in navigating the complexities of the system, ensuring that the necessary steps are taken to help make sure that your legal rights are protected.

What Rights Do Prisoners Have?

While incarcerated, individuals retain certain rights protected by law. These rights include access to adequate medical care, protection from cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to basic human dignity.

  • Access to Adequate Medical Care. The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, and the Supreme Court, in cases such as Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 97 S. Ct. 285 (1976), has affirmed the right of prisoners to receive adequate medical care.
  • Protection from Cruel and Unusual Punishment. The Eighth Amendment serves as the foundation, prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. The Eighth Amendment unequivocally prohibits the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment, serving as a foundational principle to ensure that individuals, including those in custody, are protected from excessive and inhumane treatment. In correctional contexts, the Eighth Amendment imposes a duty on prison authorities to maintain conditions that do not subject inmates to unnecessary harm or degradation. It underscores the constitutional obligation to provide humane treatment, even for those convicted of crimes. The Eighth Amendment serves as a constitutional shield, protecting individuals within correctional facilities from abusive treatment, be it physical, psychological, or systemic in nature. This protection extends to actions by both prison staff and fellow inmates. Courts play a vital role in interpreting and applying the Eighth Amendment in correctional cases. Landmark cases, such as Estelle v. Gamble (1976) and Hudson v. McMillian (1992), have established legal standards and precedent, affirming that deliberate indifference to inmate safety and well-being constitutes a violation of the Eighth Amendment.
  • Basic Human Dignity. While not explicitly stated in a single constitutional provision, the concept of basic human dignity aligns with the overarching principles of the Eighth Amendment and is further reinforced through cases like Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 97 S. Ct. 285 (1976) which recognizes the need for humane treatment of prisoners.

These rights serve as fundamental pillars, upholding the principles of justice and fairness within the correctional system. If you are someone you know has been subjected to abuse while an inmate in a New York jail or prison and suffered a serious injury, contact an experienced New York prison rights lawyer. Through a personal injury lawsuit, you may have be eligible to receive significant compensation for the injuries you sustained as a result of the abuse.

What Is Prisoner Abuse?

Prisoner abuse involves mistreatment or violation of the rights of individuals in New York prisons. This mistreatment can take different forms including, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and withholding medical treatment. The abuse can be by prison staff or by other inmates.

  • Physical Abuse. Physical abuse against inmates involves actions causing harm, such as excessive force, unwarranted punishment, or neglect leading to injuries. Excessive force includes the unnecessary use of physical power, going beyond what is needed for control. It can involve such behavior as punching, kicking, body slamming, and using weapons. Unwarranted punishment refers to disciplinary measures without just cause, causing physical harm. Neglect leading to injuries occurs when insufficient care results in harm, addressing concerns like inadequate medical attention or safety precautions. In Johnson v. Glick, 481 F.2d 1028 (2d Cir. 1973), the court established that the use of excessive force by prison officials violates the Eighth Amendment. In Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1 (1992), the court held that the use of excessive physical force against a prisoner may constitute cruel and unusual punishment even though the inmate does not suffer serious injury.
  • Sexual abuse. Sexual abuse of inmates involves any non-consensual sexual activity within correctional facilities. This can include unwanted advances, coercion, or any form of sexual contact without clear and voluntary consent. Such acts violate the rights of individuals in custody and are strictly prohibited under the law. A cause of action against the correctional facility as well as staff may arise not only if the abuse was perpetrated by prison staff, but also by other inmates. In Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994), the Supreme Court held that prison officials may be liable for failing to protect inmates from sexual assault by other prisoners if they are deliberately indifferent to the risk of harm.
  • Withholding Medical Treatment. Withholding medical treatment in the context of inmate abuse refers to the deliberate denial or delay of necessary medical care to inmates by correctional staff or authorities. This can include ignoring or dismissing inmates' requests for medical attention, delaying or obstructing access to medical facilities, or providing substandard medical care. When correctional officials withhold medical treatment, they jeopardize the health and well-being of inmates, potentially leading to serious injury, complications, or even death. One notable case that highlights the issue of withholding medical treatment in the context of inmate abuse is Estelle v. Gamble, a landmark Supreme Court case decided in 1976. In this case, the plaintiff sued prison officials for failing to provide adequate medical care for his serious medical condition. The Supreme Court ruled that deliberate indifference to serious medical needs constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Court held that prison officials cannot intentionally deny or delay access to medical care for inmates, as it violates their constitutional rights.
Consequences of Prisoner Abuse

When prisoner abuse occurs, it can have severe consequences for the victims, both physically and psychologically. Injuries sustained from abuse can lead to long-term health issues, exacerbating the challenges individuals already face within the prison system. Furthermore, the emotional toll of abuse can contribute to a hostile and unsafe prison environment, affecting the overall well-being of incarcerated individuals.

  • Physical Injuries. In cases of prisoner abuse, physical injuries can range from immediate harm, such as bruises and fractures, to long-term consequences like chronic pain or disabilities. The severity of injuries often depends on the nature and duration of the abuse. For example, in Reynolds v. Goord, 998 F. Supp. 2d 182 (N.D.N.Y. 2014), the court found that correctional officers could be held liable for using excessive force against an inmate in violation of their constitutional rights.
  • STDs and Pregnancy. Sexual abuse within correctional facilities increases the risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV. Failure to address and prevent such abuse can lead to the spread of infections, posing a serious health risk to the affected individuals. In addition, female prisoners can end up pregnant after being sexually abused by male corrections officers.
  • Infection from Other Diseases. Inadequate living conditions and lack of proper medical care can contribute to the spread of various diseases within prisons. Prisoner abuse can exacerbate this issue, leading to increased vulnerability to infections and diseases among inmates.
  • Psychological Trauma and Disorders. Prisoner abuse, whether physical or psychological, can result in severe and lasting psychological trauma. Individuals may develop disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression, impacting their mental well-being both during incarceration and after release.
  • Death. In extreme cases, prisoner abuse can lead to fatalities. Physical violence, neglect, or other forms of mistreatment may result in the loss of life, highlighting the gravity of the consequences when abuse goes unchecked.
Pursuing Damages for Injuries

New York prison inmates who have suffered injuries while incarcerated have the right to pursue compensation through personal injury lawsuits. These lawsuits allow inmates to seek financial damages for harm caused by the negligence or misconduct of others, including correctional facility staff, the facility itself, other inmates, or third parties. The potential damages include:

  • Medical Expenses. One category of damages that inmates may seek in a personal injury lawsuit is compensation for medical expenses. This includes reimbursement for the cost of medical treatment related to the injury, such as hospital bills, doctor's fees, prescription medications, and rehabilitative therapy. Inmates can recover damages for past and future medical expenses incurred as a result of the injury.
  • Lost Wages. Inmates who are injured while incarcerated may also seek compensation for lost wages or loss of earning capacity. If the injury prevents the inmate from working during their incarceration or after their release, they may be entitled to compensation for the income they would have earned if not for the injury. This includes wages lost during the recovery period and potential future earnings. To learn how this would be calculated, contact an experienced New York prisoner rights lawyer.
  • Pain and Suffering. Another type of damages available in personal injury lawsuits is compensation for pain and suffering. This category includes physical pain, emotional distress, and mental anguish caused by the injury. While quantifying pain and suffering damages can be challenging, courts may consider factors such as the severity of the injury, the duration of the pain, and the impact on the inmate's quality of life.
  • Punitive Damages. In cases involving particularly egregious conduct or intentional wrongdoing, inmates may be awarded punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant and deter similar misconduct in the future. However, punitive damages are not available in all cases and typically require evidence of malicious intent or reckless disregard for the inmate's safety.
  • Wrongful Death. In cases where an inmate dies as a result of injuries sustained while incarcerated, surviving family members may file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased. Wrongful death claims seek compensation for damages such as funeral and burial expenses, loss of financial support, and loss of companionship and support.

Potential defendants in a personal injury lawsuit filed by an inmate may include correctional officers, prison administrators, medical staff, and other parties responsible for the inmate's safety and well-being. Government agencies or entities that operate the correctional facility may also be named as defendants.

It is important to be aware of the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit, as there are deadlines for initiating legal action. In New York, the statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits, including those filed by inmates, is typically three years from the date of the injury. However, there may be exceptions or variations depending on the specific circumstances of the case. Also, note that there are typically special complaint procedures that inmates must exhaust before filing a civil claim in court. An experienced prisoner rights attorney in New York can help you navigate the procedures.

Contact Stephen Bilkis & Associates

Our commitment to advocating for the rights of prisoners in New York is rooted in the belief that every individual, regardless of their incarceration status, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Our skilled prison rights attorneys serving New York remain dedicated to supporting those who have been injured because neglect or abuse in correctional facilities in New York. If you or someone you know has been a victim of prisoner abuse, contact us to explore the available legal options. Contact us at 800.696.9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We represent clients in the following locations: Brooklyn, Long Island, Queens, Manhattan, Nassau County, Staten Island, Suffolk County, Bronx, and Westchester County.

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