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Prisoner Rights

Rights of Prisoners

The information provided in this section is written for people resident in, or affected by, the laws of England and Wales.

Prisoners retain certain basic rights which survive despite imprisonment and this section describes these rights. It details how prisoners can access the prison ombudsman to make complaints about the prison and lawyers to conduct any legal proceedings that they want to make. It lists the right to visits, education, exercise and work as well as rights to send out letters and get married. Also described here are the categories of prison, discipline within prisons and the rules regarding parole and release.

'Absolute' rights

Prisoners retain certain basic rights, which survive despite imprisonment. Given the brief nature of the Prison Act 1952 and the Prison Rules prisoners have very few 'absolute' rights. The rights of access to the courts and of respect for one's bodily integrity - that is, not to be assaulted - are such fundamental rights. Others may be recognised as the law develops. Prisoners lose only those civil rights that are taken away either expressly by an Act of Parliament or by necessary implication. For example, one right taken away by statute is that prisoners detained following conviction do not have a right to vote. The test in every case is whether the right is fundamental and whether there is anything in the Prison Act 1952, the Prison Rules 1999 or elsewhere which authorises the prison authorities to limit such a right.

The test now applied is that the State can only place limits on prisoners' rights if they are necessary for the prevention of crime or for prison security. Any limitations placed upon such rights must also be proportionate to the aim which the authorities are seeking to achieve. There are a large number of cases which have been heard by the European Court of Human Rights which help clarify the extent to which limitations can be imposed.

You can read more on prisoner rights here.