Prison Inmates in North Carolina: These Are Your Legal Rights

Jail is a pretty horrible place.

Prison—either a North Carolina correctional institution or a federal penitentiary—is even worse.

Even for minimum-security facilities, a prisoner’s time is highly structured to ensure maximum control of the convict population at all times. Extended periods of boredom occur frequently. The inmate never forgets that prisoners’ comfort is not a high priority for the institution.

Nevertheless, an inmate retains some important legal protections and rights during confinement in prison.

Your most important right is guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment

The text of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—part of the Bill of Rights—says, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Hundreds of lawsuits have focused on that how that last clause should be interpreted for prisoners.

The legal precedents require that the state or federal government must guarantee that prisoners are treated humanely and confined in conditions that are consistent with health, safety, and human dignity. Degrading living standards and arbitrary punishment are forbidden.

You do have the right to petition the courts to intervene if you are subject to inhumane treatment and living conditions while confined in prison. Be aware, however, that courts tend to give greater weight to prison officials’ need to maintain order than to prisoners’ demands for comfort. Gross violations of decent treatment will be responded to, but few lesser complaints will receive favorable attention from the court.

Other rights you retain

As a North Carolina prison inmate or a convict in federal prison, you will still have the following rights:

  • Freedom of expression, within the boundaries necessary for institutional security
  • Freedom of religion and the right to attend periodic religious services
  • The right to medical treatment for legitimate illness and injuries
  • The right to nutritious food in an amount and frequency sufficient for adequate nourishment
  • The right to expect physical security from attacks by other inmates or guards, except when a guard is acting to respond to an emergency situation
  • The right to periodic exercise
  • The right to make phone calls and send and receive mail, subject to the security needs of the institution. All external communications may be monitored or screened by prison officials
  • The right to own personal property such as eyeglasses, religious items, and clothing as allowed by your confinement classification and the security needs of the facility
  • The right to meet with reasonable frequency with your attorney

The most important right you do not retain is the right of privacy. Your property, your cell or dormitory billet, and your person may be searched at any time by prison officials. Prohibited materials will be confiscated.

Don’t go to prison. It’s just awful there.

Some people see a stint in prison as a sign of how tough they are. Don’t buy into that attitude. That is macho posturing from someone who is trying to make the best of a prison sentence that couldn’t be avoided.

If you are arrested in North Carolina for a felony or a serious (or repeated) misdemeanor that could send you to jail or prison, you need an effective defense team NOW. At the Speaks Law Firm, our Wilmington criminal defense attorneys have extensive experience negotiating with prosecutors to get charges reduced or dropped. Connect with us today at 910-341-7570 or toll-free at 877-593-4233 to learn how we can work toward the best possible outcome for your North Carolina criminal case.

R. Clarke Speaks
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Trial Lawyer and Founder of Speaks Law Firm, P.C.