No matter how serious a prisoner’s crime of conviction, rape, physical abuse, and other civil and human rights violations in prison are never an appropriate part of the punishment. When prison guards use excessive force—causing harm maliciously and sadistically—they violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The Eighth Amendment also prohibits rape and serious sexual abuse by prison guards. Additionally, under New York state law, any sexual contact between a guard and a prisoner is rape. Under certain circumstances, prison guards can also be held liable for failing to protect a prisoner from rape or physical assault by another prisoner.
Unfortunately, a 1996 law called the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) created several obstacles for prisoners bringing federal civil rights claims for prison injuries. For example, before you file a lawsuit, you must “exhaust your remedies” by following the prison’s grievance procedures. Additionally, the PLRA prohibits prisoners from filing a lawsuit for mental or emotional injury unless physical injury can also be shown.
However, the limitations of the PLRA only apply to prisoners. Depending on the applicable statute of limitations in your case, it may be possible to wait until you are released from prison to file your lawsuit. This is a decision that should be discussed with an experienced civil rights attorney. If you or a loved one has suffered injuries as a result of physical or sexual abuse in prison, please call us at (212) 685-0999 for a consultation.