The Rights of Prisoners

What rights are owed to prisoners?

The human rights of prisoners in the UK have been a point of contention for many years. There are those who believe that all people should have access to certain human rights, regardless of who they are and what they have done in the past. On the other hand, many argue that the very act of committing a crime against someone is a violation of their human rights, and as such, anyone found guilty of a crime should have their own human rights revoked.

Whatever your perspective might be, here are some of the rights currently afforded to prisoners in the UK under the Human Rights Act.

Human Rights Intact

While detention in prison will result in the compromise and removal of some human rights, there are other human rights that every individual is entitled to under the European Convention on Human Rights, whether they are in prison or not. These rights allow them, among other things:

  • the right to food and water
  • an education
  • a solicitor and private legal counsel
  • freedom from discrimination and harassment
  • good healthcare
  • communication with those outside prison
  • freedom of religion
  • the right to marry and start a family.

The application of some of these rights can vary depending on the circumstances of each prisoner. For example, an adult prisoner’s right to education could be applied in the form of optional evening classes, or even the right to study for qualifications whilst in prison. On the other hand, a young prisoner below school leaving age will be entitled to at least 15 hours of education or vocational training every week.

Rules on discrimination can apply in different ways also. For example, all prisoners should be free from racial abuse, but prisoners with disabilities also need to have allowances made for them if they would otherwise have difficulty using prison facilities and services.

Reasonable Compromise of Prisoner Rights

Under the European Convention on Human Rights, any country signed up to the Convention can restrict the human rights of their prisoners if it is in the interest the people of that country to do so.

For example, Article 5, the right to liberty and security, allows for the restriction among other forms and reasons for detention. Essentially, right to liberty and security comes with a number of provisos for locking individuals up – whether this refers to a long term prison sentence or a few hours in the cells without charge.

Article 5 also allows for lawful detention for other more unusual reasons, including:

  • alcohol addiction
  • drug addiction
  • prevention of the spread of infectious disease
  • individuals who are not of sound mind.

These provisions allow for lawful detention in psychiatric secure units (mental hospitals) in the UK – however, an individual can only be detained if they are considered to be a considerable risk to themselves or others.

Forced Labour

Another right denied by a prisoner’s detention comes under Article 4 of the Convention, the right to be free from forced labour and slavery. Forced labour is illegal in the UK under any other circumstances, but human rights law makes a specific dispensation that forced labour can be imposed on those in jail, for a maximum of ten hours per day.

However, a prisoner can only be made to work if he or she is considered fit to do so. A prisoner should also be excused from work on particular days if it would go against his or her religious beliefs to work on those days.

Other Rights Compromises

There are other situations in which prisoners have their rights limited, or could have them limited depending on their circumstances. While prisoners can stay in touch with those on the outside, they cannot have access to computers, mobile phones or the internet.

This limitation also applies to using social networking sites – a prisoner could not post updates on their social networking accounts, even if they asked someone else to do it for them outside.

Another example of a reasonable restriction can be applied to the education of a prisoner at school age. He or she may be removed from education if it is necessary to do so, to prevent disruption or for security reasons.

Share your experiences

Please note: The views expressed in community areas of this site do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of Law on the Web, its owners, its staff or contributors.

Get unlimited telephone legal advice
Instant Law Line Business
Licence Assist
I found Law on the Web to be very informative when looking for a solicitor to do our family will. It helped me find key information fast and when getting in contact with a solicitor I already had some knowledge on the subject and could focus in on what we needed. Thanks for all your hard work.
David Doulton, Long Ashton, Somerset May 2012

We are looking into ways to develop the website and would appreciate it if you could take a few moments to complete our short survey.
Please click submit when you have finished the survey

Thank you for taking part in our survey.