Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Prisoners' 1983 Suits

J. D. Enquist

This is part two of the article Prisoners' 1983. It will be written from a somewhat different slant; your due process rights as protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Prison employees are taught that in order to be effective they must view all prisoners as dangerous, scheming, conniving criminals who must be subjected to close surveillance and domination. The staff is told that they cannot just watch and wait, for that would give the prisoner an opportunity to react in a thought-out and organized manner, thus contributing to a greater willingness on the part of prisoners to defy institutional rules.

Staff members are taught that domination of all individual prisoners is important; this means they must show their authority in the making and enforcing of rules. Thus, while you are on your way to the yard, the staff member will say, "Don't slow down, keep walking," or "That's right, keep walking," to the prisoner who never so much as thought of slowing down. The staff will often use this ploy to incite a reaction, so he or she can infract the prisoner.

Because the guards who are in charge of the disciplinary hearings are generally sergeants and lieutenants, many lower ranking guards are eager to write infraction reports against prisoners. They believe it demonstrates how alert and in control they are to their superiors.

Because prisoners are scheming and conniving criminals, it is justified to alter an infraction report to fit the alleged incident and the violation. What's important is that staff is able to show domination over a prisoner by writing an infraction report.

The guard hearing the infraction is likely to find the prisoner guilty rather than not guilty, because they believe that the line staff's moral will suffer if their reported infractions are dismissed as having no merit.

An added problem is that many sergeants, lieutenants and higher-ups often gain their rank because they have shown loyalty to their superiors (most likely a clique of staff who are the true body running the prison), rather than because they are truly qualified for the promotion. Because the unqualified staff cannot, by reason of indifference, or ignorance perform the duties necessary for a well run prison, this loyalty with moral reason contributes to a greater willingness by staff to be scheming, conniving and corrupt cops.

It is for this reason that it is important for us to read, and understand, those institution rules that can result in an infraction and those constitutional rights that we do have. We should know the content of the rules, in terms of what they are, and how they relate to the constitution.

Interference of our constitutionally protected rights should be challenged and may result in a successful Prisoners 1983 action.

Probably the right most confusing to prisoners and just maybe the one most often violated by staff, is the right to due process of law. It is not a wonder this is so, since "due process" is not a right neatly contained in a simple and easily read package. Undisputedly, due process in one form or another touches on every aspect of your imprisonment.

In Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 106 S.Ct. 677, 88 L.Ed.2nd 662 (1986), the U.S. Supreme Court explained those due process rights afforded to prisoners. For example: "Second, it contains a substantive component sometimes referred to as `substantive due process,' which bars certain arbitrary government actions `regardless of the fairness of the procedures used to implement them.'...Third, it is a guarantee of fair procedure, sometimes referred to as `procedural due process:' the state may not execute, imprison or fine a defendant without giving him a fair trial, nor may it take property without providing appropriate procedural safeguards." You owe it to yourself to read the entire case.

Officially, staff are taught to act professionally. Each of us can cite incidents in which this did not happen. But it is likely that the biggest violator of our constitutionally protected rights are not solely the staff. We have a right to fair and advance notice, Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed2d 935 (1974); we have the right to adequate access to the courts, Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 97 S.Ct. 1491, 52 L.Ed.2d 72 (1977); and we even have a right to expect the staff to follow their own rules, Morton v. Ruiz, 415 U.S. 199, 94 S.Ct. 1055, 39 L.Ed.2d 270 (1974), see also Caldwell v. Miller, 790 F.2d 589 (1986).

What are we doing about it?

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login