Legal Rights



Theidea of giving inmates the right to some form of rehabilitation isquite controversial. One group of the stakeholders argues that thereis no law stating clearly that the prison system is mandated toprovide rehabilitation services to inmates. The other camp holds thatthe fact the justice system is mandated by the constitution tocorrect offenders before they are permitted to go back to the societycreates an expectation that all inmates will have an access toeffective rehabilitation programs. This idea has been supported bythe previous court decisions, such as the case of Pughv. Locke.These decisions indicate that all incarceration facilities aremandated by the law to maintain conditions that permit their inmatesto access rehabilitation programs that can allow them to improvetheir conduct or retain their present skills. This requirementsuggests that all inmates (including juvenile, adult, male, female,and sex offenders) have the legal right to some form ofrehabilitation.

Keywords: Rehabilitation, legal right, constitutional mandate,correctional facilities.


Thefact that inmates are incarcerated after breaking the law heightensthe debate on whether they have any right, include the access toeffective rehabilitation programs. The opponents of this idea holdthat there is no law (including the constitution and theinternational conventions) that guarantees the right to accessrehabilitation programs. Supporters of the same idea base theirargument on the fact that the prisons are established to correctoffenders (Ploch, 2012). This paper will provide a discussion on thearguments for and against the inmates’ right to access some form ofrehabilitation. The paper will then justify why the convicts have thelegal right to some form of rehabilitation.

WhyCriminals have a Legal Right to Rehabilitation

Theright of the criminals to be given some form of rehabilitationservices can be derived from the court rulings, the constitution, andthe international laws. Psychological treatment is one of the keyforms of rehabilitation that have been enforced by the courts in thepast. For example, in the case of Browringv. Godwin thatwas decided in 1977, the court held that Browring and any otherinmate was entitled to psychological rehabilitation services as longas it could be proven that their symptoms confirm that they sufferedfrom some serious diseases (Smith, 2012). This right to psychologicalrehabilitation was derived from the progressive interpretation of theEighth Amendment. The aim of this form of rehabilitation is to makeinmates productive and useful once they are set free.

Mostof the provisions of the constitution and the international laws donot state explicitly that convicts have a legal right to berehabilitated. However, being treated with dignity is an undisputedright that should be enjoyed by all human beings, including theincarcerated offenders. For example, the Universal Declaration ofHuman rights (UDHR) advances the issue of dignity to all members ofthe human family unconditionally (Ploch, 2012). Although the issue ofrehabilitation is not mentioned, the confinement of inmates reducestheir dignity and it can only be compensated through the use ofeffective programs that can correct their behaviors. Rehabilitationprograms can justify the inmates’ stay in the prison.

Theconstitution mandates the stakeholders in the justice system toensure that the prison conditions do not subject the inmates toinhuman treatment, but facilitate their correction. In the case ofPughv. Locke,it was held that it is unconstitutional for the penal system tooperate in a way that impedes the ability of inmates to avoid mental,physical, social deterioration, or attempt rehabilitation (Fagan,2016). Therefore, the prison system is constitutionally mandated tofacilitate the inmates’ rehabilitation.

WhyInmates have no Legal Right to Some Form of Rehabilitation

Thereare many laws that have been used to support the notion that inmateshave the legal right to be rehabilitated. However, none of theexisting legal instruments state explicitly that rehabilitation isone of the rights that prisoners must enjoy. For an instant, Articlethree of the European Convention on Human Rights holds that theincarcerated persons should not be subjected to degrading, inhumantreatment (Ploch, 2012). However, the convention does not suggestthat the absence of unfair treatment should be replaced with therehabilitation programs.

Inaddition, some of the international conventions and standards thatare used to support the idea that inmates have the right to accessrehabilitation programs cannot be enforced in individualjurisdictions. For an instant, the U.N. Standards Minimum Rules onthe Treatment of Inmates or prisoners provide guidelines on howprisoners should be treated in order to correct them while protectingtheir dignity (Ploch, 2012). However, these rules are notenforceable, which limits the ability of inmates to use them to claimtheir rights to access rehabilitation programs.

Moreover,supporters of the idea that prisoners have the legal right to accessrehabilitation base their argument on the U.S. constitution. The U.S.Code, Title 18 is one of the parts of the law that are cited by thesesupporters. However, Title 18 provides procedures that should beobserved in order to avoid the mistreatment of offenders during theirterm in prison (Ploch, 2012). It is only one statute of Title 18 thatmentions the word rehabilitation, but in the context of thepost-sentencing period. Therefore, the title and the constitution asa whole do not guarantee the inmates the right to be rehabilitated.


Theprison system purses different objectives (including the crimedeterrence, retribution, and incapacitation), but rehabilitation isthe primary goals of all agencies under the justice system. More thanhalf of all inmates are expected to return to the society at a pointin time. This implies that the prison system was established as afacility for correction of offenders before they are allowed to jointhe society again. Therefore, it can be implied that prisoners have alegitimate anticipation that the prison system will facilitate theirrehabilitation during their stay in the incarceration facilities(Ploch, 2012). The rehabilitation programs go a long way in helpingthe criminal justice system achieve its primary objective ofcorrecting the law breakers and reducing recidivism. Therefore, itcan be argued that rehabilitation is not directly cited in the law,but it is the most critical tool that helps the justice systemaccomplish its constitutional mandates. The isolation of offendersfrom the members of the society cannot be considered as a form ofrehabilitation.

Thestakeholders who oppose the notion that the inmates have the right toaccess rehabilitation programs hold that the idea does not have thelegal basis. However, the judgment made in Pughv. Lockesuggests that the right to be rehabilitated is tied to the overallconditions of the incarceration facilities. For an instant, the courtobserved that the conditions in the prison were so poor that theydenied the inmates the opportunity to retain the skills that theyalready had or improve their behaviors (Fagan, 2016). Based on thisruling, it is evident that the law on which the prison system isestablished expects the conditions to be suitable to an extent thatthey can facilitate effective rehabilitation. This expectationcreated by the law and supported by the court rulings implies thatprisoners have the right to access the rehabilitation programs thatcan either help them retain their present skills or change theirbehaviors.


Theconcept of rehabilitation is mentioned quite often by thestakeholders in the justice system, but most of them believe that amere confinement of offenders can force them to correct theirbehaviors. However, the previous court rulings indicate that thesystem has a legal mandate to ensure that the inmates are able toaccess the rehabilitation programs that can help them to maintainbehavior as well as the skills that they already have or improvetheir conduct before they are released. Most importantly, the prisonsystem was established, with the objective of facilitating thecorrection of the law breakers in order to enable them becomeproductive as well as useful members of the society. Therefore, itcan be concluded that inmates have the legal right to some form ofrehabilitation.


Fagan,M. (2016). Civilrights litigation clearinghouse.Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.

Ploch,A. (2012). Why dignity matters: Dignity and the right torehabilitation from international and national perspectives.InternationalLaw and Politics,44, 887-949.

Smith,L. (2012). Lost souls: Constitutional implications for thedeficiencies in treatment for persons with mental in custody. GoldenGate University Law Review,42, 498-522.