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Are Inmates Entitled to a Certain Amount of Sleep?

Dark and grungy prison cell at night
By George Khoury, Esq. on April 26, 2019 2:53 PM

Getting locked up isn’t easy. While inmates certainly are not entitled to the same comforts that most people are accustomed to, they are entitled to habitable living conditions, including heating and cooling, nutritious food, and enough time to sleep.

And inmates might be able to sleep a little bit easier knowing that a federal court has just ruled in favor of inmates claiming cruel and unusual punishment due to not being given enough or adequate time to sleep. However, after learning about what these inmates had to deal with, what they won is a stark reminder that habitable conditions are still pretty far from comfortable.

Sleeping Behind Bars

The above-mentioned federal case arose out of a California county jail that gave prisoners five hours of lights out time, and routinely used loudspeakers to wake up inmates as early as 2:30am to take medications before a 4am breakfast. What’s worse, the prison would also regularly schedule overnight maintenance work that would be loud and disruptive to the inmate’s sleep.

The case still has to finish winding its way through court, but the judge issued a preliminary injunction requiring the prison to change their practices, and provide a full 6 hours of lights out time on weekdays, and 7 hours on weekends. An extra hour a night might not seem like much, but coupled with a prohibition on the overnight maintenance work and loudspeaker pill-calls during lights out time, the sleep deprived inmates are sure to enjoy the time they were awarded.

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

The standard for inmates to meet to prove cruel and unusual punishment is rather high. Many have struggled to prove that not providing relief from the heat in summer months when temperatures rise to dangerous levels constitutes an Eighth Amendment violation, although it has happened.

However, sleep deprivation, unlike dangerous temperatures, or other conditions outside the institution's control, is something that is almost exclusively within an institution's control, particularly if it is the institution's own policies and practices causing that sleep deprivation.

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