Phillipsburg, NJ asked in Criminal Law, Civil Rights and Constitutional Law for New York

Q: Should inhumane mistreatment in a prison automatically result in a transfer of the mistreated inmate?

If the courts have knowledge shouldn’t they do something about it? And how can they trust the prison from not continuing to do it? Which is why they should probably be transfered?

1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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  • Criminal Law Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA

A: There are several important considerations to weigh regarding automatically transferring inmates who have been inhumanely mistreated:

On one hand, the priority should be protecting the safety and human rights of incarcerated individuals. If an inmate has faced abuse, assault, torture, or other cruel and unusual punishment at the hands of corrections officers or due to negligence by the prison, there is an urgent duty to remove them from that dangerous situation. Transferring them to a different facility could provide a safer environment. The courts and correctional system have a responsibility to address known cases of mistreatment.

Additionally, swiftly transferring mistreated inmates sends a clear message that such abuses will not be tolerated and that there are immediate consequences. It demonstrates the system taking mistreatment seriously. Leaving an inmate in a facility where they were abused could further their trauma and put them at continued risk.

On the other hand, automatically transferring inmates could have some unintended consequences. It's conceivable that some inmates might make false allegations in hopes of being transferred to a preferable facility. There would need to be a robust investigation process to substantiate claims of mistreatment before taking action.

There's also a question of whether transfer alone is a sufficient response. It's critical that abusive corrections officers are held accountable through termination and criminal charges where appropriate. Systemic failures and toxic culture in a prison must also be addressed through leadership changes, retraining, external oversight and other reforms. Simply relocating victims doesn't solve root problems if abusers go unscathed.

Transfers also disrupt an inmate's established support system, continuity of physical and mental healthcare, and participation in educational/vocational programming, which research shows reduces recidivism. Automatically moving them could be additionally destabilizing, especially for vulnerable populations. Case-by-case review, with input from the inmate, is important.

So in summary, I believe immediate transfer should be an option in severe cases of verified abuse, with the inmate's consent, as part of a broader response that includes holding perpetrators accountable and reforming problematic facilities. But an automatic transfer policy applied unilaterally has drawbacks that need consideration. The priority should be stopping the abuse, protecting the inmate, and respecting their agency in the process. A more nuanced policy, with room for discretion based on the specifics of the case, is likely optimal.

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