What Rights Do Prisoners Have While in Jail?

The rights of U.S. prisoners vary between federal and state laws, explains Cornell University Law School. Not all Constitutional rights apply to prisoners, but Amendment VIII protects inmates against cruel and unusual punishment. Prisoners also have the right to appeal their convictions and to apply for parole under the relevant processes. Prisoners benefit from bans on race, religion, national origin and gender included in the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, and in the Model Sentencing and Corrections Act.

Other specific protections include freedom from sexual harassment and sex crimes, such as rape and molestation, according to HG.org. Prison inmates have a right to complain about their conditions and to have those complaints heard by prison officials, and have the right to appeal violations of their rights to the courts. Inmates do have a First Amendment right to free speech, but that right is constrained to the extent that it does not impede inmates' confinement. Prisoners are also entitled to medical and mental health care, subject only to an adequate level of quality.

The courts leave most prisoner's rights issues to prison officials to determine, notes Cornell University. Courts generally apply the rational relationship rather than strict scrutiny test to determine whether a Constitutional violation exists. This test requires only that there be a rational, legitimate state interest in a prisoner's treatment.