Philadelphia criminal defense and civil rights attorney Lauren A. Wimmer has been selected to the 2019 Pennsylvania Rising Stars list. Each year, no more than 2.5 percent of the lawyers in the state are selected by the research team at Super Lawyers to receive this honor. Super Lawyers, a Thomson Reuters business, is a rating…
A Civil Rights Attorney in Philadelphia Helping Individuals Who Have Been Injured While in Custody
Prison abuse and mistreatment of inmates is a grave matter that undermines our country’s core values. Unfortunately, many prisoners are afraid to speak out due to fear of retaliation. If you’re being tormented while serving out your sentence, you need to understand that you have rights and the prison system should be held accountable.
Philadelphia attorney Lauren Wimmer fights for the rights of prisoners. She understands the challenges you face and how hard it is to get the help you need. As a result, she provides her clients with dedicated and passionate legal representation and doesn’t stop until you get justice and your rights are restored. If you would like to schedule a free consultation, contact Wimmer Criminal Defense Law by calling 215-712-1212 or completing our online contact form.
Your Constitutional Rights
If you are convicted of a felony, you give up a lot of your rights such as your right to vote, the right to run for public office, and the right to own a firearm. That said, you don’t give up all of your rights, particularly those secured by the Constitution. Systemic and callous disregard of prisoners’ constitutional rights is a major problem in our justice system. If you’ve experienced any abuse while serving a prison sentence, you need an experienced, dedicated attorney who will fight to ensure the abuse stops and you get justice.
Your First Amendment Rights
Prisoners have the right to free speech and the exercise of their religion, provided that it doesn’t interfere with their incarceration. You have the right to send and receive letters and communicate with the outside world, and restrictions imposed by the prison can violate this right. In addition, refusal to accommodate your religious practices may also violate your First Amendment rights.
The Eighth Amendment
The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution protects prisoners against “cruel and unusual punishments.” The Eighth Amendment does not prohibit any specific acts, and the language has been interpreted very differently over the years. Punishments that were previously considered to be routine or justified are now considered to violate prisoners’ constitutional rights. However, in its 1972 ruling in Furman v. Georgia, the United States Supreme Court provided the following four principles to be used in determining whether punishment is cruel and unusual:
- The punishment is so severe that it can be considered a degradation to human dignity;
- The punishment was inflicted in an arbitrary manner;
- The punishment is one that would be rejected by society; or
- The punishment is clearly or blatantly unnecessary.
Prison officials attempt to classify abusive acts as punishment for some infraction of prison rules, but the reality is that the infraction is just a pretext for abuse. Most instances of prison abuse fall under the second and fourth principle -the punishment is either completely arbitrary or totally unnecessary.
The Fourteenth Amendment
Another source of protection for prisoners is the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Equal Protection Clause protects prisoners from any discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or sex. Discrimination can occur when prisoners are denied privileges or services, or simply treated unfairly, on the basis of their race, religion, or on some other prohibited basis.
Section 1983 Claims
You may have heard someone refer to a “Section 1983” claim. This is a reference to Title 42, Section 1983 of the United States Code. This law gives anyone, including prisoners, the right to file a lawsuit as a result of being deprived of their rights “under color of law.” The phrase “under cover of law” refers to when someone is acting with legal authority such as police officers or government officials, but particularly prison guards and other prison personnel. The statute gives both state and federal prisoners the right to file a lawsuit in federal court seeking compensation for the harm they have suffered.
Despite the protections afforded by law and the Constitution, some prisons continue to foster a culture of malicious violence towards prisoners. In some cases, it’s the product of a few guards, while in others it is encouraged by or ignored by supervisory personnel. Here are some examples of abuse commonly suffered by prison inmates across the country and in Pennsylvania:
- Hitting, kicking, and beating
- Prolonged or excessive physical restraint
- Electrical shocks from tasers or similar devices
- Sprayed with tear gas or other chemicals
- Sexual abuse
Prisoners suffer serious injuries as the result of physical abuse, and in some cases, death. If you’ve suffered physical abuse while imprisoned, an experienced prison abuse attorney can help you regain your rights.
In addition to physical abuse, prison inmates often suffer psychological abuse at the hands of prison personnel. Psychological abuse can take on the following forms:
- Sleep deprivation
- Recurrent and exhaustive inspections and searches
- Verbal abuse
- Prolonged isolation
Psychological abuse can cause severe depression and acute anxiety, and lead to self-harm and even suicide.
Up to this point, we’ve focused on examples of active abuse, but abuse can also be passive in character. When prison personnel are deliberately indifferent to a prisoner’s health or safety, it is a violation of the prisoner’s rights. Deliberate indifference occurs whenever prison guards or other personnel fail to act where there is an imminent risk to the prisoner’s health or safety:
- Failure to provide medication or medical treatment
- Failure to protect inmates from violent acts from other inmates
- Failure to address dangerous or unhealthy living conditions
- Forcing inmates to work dispute injury or health problems
When prison personnel fail to take reasonable steps to keep inmates safe, inmates can suffer serious harm, resulting in injury or long-term health problems. Deliberate indifference is a violation of prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights.
If You’re Being Abused While in Jail or Prison, Contact Philadelphia Civil Rights Attorney Lauren Wimmer Today
From county jails to federal prisons, mistreatment of inmates is an endemic problem in our justice system. Attorney Lauren Wimmer fights for the rights of inmates across Pennsylvania and uses her experience and skills to ensure her clients get justice. If you’ve been deprived of your rights as a prison inmate, call Wimmer Criminal Defense Law at 215-712-1212 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.