Restriction of Prisoners' Rights

Restriction of Prisoners' Rights

The ACLU National Prison Project works to end unconstitutionally broad policies that unnecessarily restrict the constitutional rights of prisoners, such as censorship policies that ban many reading materials. Restricting prisoners’ core constitutional rights can have a negative impact on their ability to successfully transition back into the community.

Restriction of Prisoners' Rights: Latest News and Updates>>


Know Your Rights: Publications Sent by Mail (2012 Resource): Restrictions on prisoners’ access to publications cannot be arbitrary; they must be “reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.” That said, in practice, courts often will accept the judgment of prison authorities in deciding whether censoring a publication is reasonable.

Know Your Rights: Freedom of Religion (2012 Resource): Generally, beliefs that are "sincerely held" and "religious" are protected by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Know Your Rights: Privileged and Non-Privileged Mail  (2011 resource): The Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution entitles prisoners to receive and send mail, subject only to the institution's right to censor letters or withhold delivery if necessary to protect institutional security, and if accompanied by appropriate procedural safeguards.

Know Your Rights: The Prison Litigation Reform Act  (2011 resource): The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) makes it harder for prisoners to file lawsuits in federal court. This fact sheet outlines the information you need to know before filing a lawsuit.

ACLU Guide to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (2011 PDF)


Slamming the Courthouse Doors: Denial of Access to Justice and Remedy in America (2010 PDF): Actions of the executive, federal legislative, and judicial branches of the United States have seriously restricted access to justice for victims of civil liberties and human rights violations, and have limited the availability of effective (or, in some cases, any) remedies for these violations. Weakened judicial oversight and recent attempts to limit access to justice by attacking plaintiffs’ and defendants’ standing, discovery rights and the courts’ jurisdiction, are denying victims of human rights violations their day in court and protecting responsible officials and corporations from litigation.


Henderson et al. v. Thomas et al.: In 2011, the ACLU National Prison Project and the AIDS Project, along with the ACLU of Alabama, sued the Alabama Department of Corrections for discrimination against inmates living with HIV.

Prison Legal News et al. v. Berkeley County Sheriff et al.: The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in October 2010 challenging an unconstitutional policy at the Berkeley County Detention Center in Moncks Corner, S.C. barring most books, magazines and newspapers from being sent to prisoners.

Florence v. County of Burlington: A Supreme Court case considering whether a jail may institute a policy of strip searching every new detainee regardless of the reason for the detention.

Sossamon v. Texas (2010 case): A case regarding whether the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, which was designed in part to protect the religious rights of prisoners, allows prisoners to sue a state for money damages when a state violates those religious rights.

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