Rights of an Inmate in Jail

Inmates in jail maintain certain rights.
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Inmates in jail have the right to many resources, including medical care. While inmate rights may vary from state to state, or country to country, common inmate rights exist. These include the right to meals, telephones, mail, showers and other resources.

Legal Rights

Inmates are entitled to due process when undergoing the appeals process and have the right to undergo the parole process. Inmates have the right to be protected against unfair treatment because of race, sex, religion or nation of origin. Rights to speech and religion are granted but may be limited.

Medical Services

Inmates in jail have the right to medical services when sick or injured. Emergency medical and dental services should be available at all hours. Inmates needing medical attention have the right to meet face to face with medical personnel.

Female inmates have the right to seek abortions if desired, or to undergo childbirth outside of jail. Expectant mothers must not be coerced into seeking adoption or foster care services, but these should be provided if desired. Inmates in jail seeking mental health care have the right to preliminary screenings, stabilization, treatment and medication support services.


All inmates in jail have the right to receive three meals in a 24-hour time period, including one meal with hot food. Inmates should be permitted at least 15 minutes to consume each meal.


Inmates have the right to communicate with the outside world in various ways. This includes reasonable access to a telephone and regular visits from friends and family--one hour per week is the suggested minimum visitation right, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Attorney visits should not be limited.

Inmates also have the right to receive media, including magazines, newspapers and books, if these are mailed directly from the publisher and not intermediary vendors. The American Civil Liberties Union recommends no more than three books, one newspaper and two periodicals per inmate at one time.

Voting And Recreation

Inmates in jail who are registered to vote may vote by absentee ballot in some circumstances. This applies to those inmates who have not yet been convicted of a crime but are awaiting trial. Inmates in jail may also have the right to three hours of exercise outside their cells each week.


Inmates are protected under the Constitution from cruel and unusual punishment. Inmates in jail may be subject to minor discipline activities, including extra work, removal from work assignment, suspended privileges--including television, telephones and commissary--and lockdowns of up to 24 hours. Inmates should not be denied food, showers or access to attorneys.

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