After reviewing the intent and provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 as it applies to correctional staff and officials, this paper considers relevant U.S. Supreme Court decisions, inmate actionable rights under the Civil Rights Act, and recommendations for corrections officials regarding policies designed to prevent the violation of inmates' civil rights.
The 1871 Civil Rights Act attaches personal liability to anyone 'acting under color' of State law to violate the constitutional rights of another. Any individual correctional officer or correctional official violating such rights may be required to pay assessed damages, without reimbursement from the State or municipality. Also, in Monnell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, et al., the U.S. Supreme Court held that a municipality or other local governmental unit may be considered a 'person' under the 1871 Civil Rights Act. The Court further ruled that there may be liability where the alleged constitutional violations have been promulgated through official policy. States, however, have retained their immunity from suit under the act. Corrections managerial personnel may be found liable for rights violations sustained by inmates under certain circumstances. To help prevent liability under the Civil Rights Act, corrections managers should (1) provide training in areas vulnerable to civil rights violations, (2) maintain adequate personnel records, (3) implement and record disciplinary action against personnel for inmate mistreatment, and (4) identify for termination staff who habitually mistreat inmates and fail to respond to training and discipline. Thirty footnotes are provided.
United States of America