For the millions of Americans behind bars, getting justice for abuses suffered while incarcerated may seem like a fantasy.
However, as the recent charges filed against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department indicate, justice for prisoner abuse and mistreatment is not so farfetched.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of abuse or mistreatment while incarcerated, here are some ways you may be able to get help:
1. File a CRIPA Complaint.
Federal law under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) creates a "fast track" for inmates to report complaints of abuse and rights violations to the Department of Justice (DOJ). Federal prosecutors will then direct a federal investigatory agency (like the FBI) to investigate these complaints in the offending jail or prison.
If the investigation reveals widespread problems in a jail or prison, the DOJ will attempt to get the state or local facility to make reforms without going to court. If that fails, the DOJ can file a lawsuit in federal court or even press civil rights charges.
CRIPA complaints have their limitations though. They will only be addressed if there is a systemic issue (not just an individual complaint). Furthermore, CRIPA does not deal with federal facilities or officials.
2. File a Federal Civil Rights Suit.
Inmates can use the same law that arrestees use to sue officers and departments for police brutality to sue for violations of their constitutional rights while incarcerated.
Most suits for abuse in prison are based on these constitutional rights:
- Fourth Amendment. Any grossly invasive searches or excessive force on an inmate can be a violation of that inmate's rights. There is, however, very little to no reasonable expectation of privacy in jail or prison.
- Eighth Amendment. The constitution prevents "cruel and unusual punishment" while incarcerated, which typically requires showing that officials acted with "deliberate indifference."
- 14th Amendment. Even when incarcerated, racial slurs or discrimination based on race (by prison officials) are prohibited by law.
With this kind of suit, a court can order prison or jail reform and an inmate may also be compensated (i.e. money) for alleged rights violations. Keep in mind, a suit can be effectively blocked if an inmate has not "exhausted" his or her other remedies within the jail or prison.
3. Contact a Civil Rights Attorney.
Since jail and prison abuse cases turn on the specific facts of each case, only an experienced civil rights attorney can give you a clearer picture of how to remedy you or your loved one's abuse behind bars.
- Rights of Persons Confined to Jails and Prisons (Department of Justice)
- Supreme Court Rules Pesky Prisoner Civil Rights Lawsuits Can't be Tossed Out (FindLaw's Blotter)
- LA Jail Abuse Indictment: Officials Abused Visitors, Beat Inmates (FindLaw's Courtside)
- Teen Locked in Police Cage Sues Cops (FindLaw's Injured)