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Legal Rights of Prisoners

History Of Prisoners' Rights, The Hands-off Period, The Beginnings Of Prisoners' Rights Law—the Civil Rights Era

Americans live in a time of the greatest prison expansion in the modern history. By the close of 2000, almost two million adults were imprisoned at an operational cost that exceeds over $38 billion dollars a year. Minorities are represented in the prison population in percentages that far exceed their representation in the general population. African Americans comprise less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet 48 percent of the prison population is African American. With so many people in prison and with so much spent to keep them there, the rights of prisoners takes added significance. An additional factor is that every year more than a half million men and women prisoners are released. The treatment these people received in prison—whether it conforms to constitutional norms or not—will have consequences. It could very well mean the difference between having prisoners return to their communities embittered or having them return ready to begin law-abiding lives.

This entry will trace the history of prisoners' rights, and will provide a general description of the current state of the law. This review provides a context for considering the likely direction of future developments.


Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law