Friday, August 10, 2012

Prisoners have no constitutional right to a seatbelt

If you are thinking of committing a felony, be assured that incarceration means that you might suffer physical injuries while prison officials are transporting you in a bus without a seatbelt. There is no recourse for this under the Constitution.

The case is Jabber v. Fischer, decided on June 21. Jabber was incarcerated at Woodbourne Correctional Facility. He was taken to Ulster Correctional Facility for a medical appointment. The bus had no seat belt for the inmates. (The corrections officers did have seat belts). I can see state officials cutting corners on these costs. Do you think they really care if prisoners have seat belts? Probably not.

The sequence of events sounds painful. The Court of Appeals (Winter, Chin and Droney) writes: "During transport, Jabbar was shackled from his wrists to his ankles. The bus made a forceful turn and Jabbar, who had fallen asleep, was thrown from his seat. He hit his head on another seat and was knocked unconscious. He sustained injuries to his face, head, and back."

Jabber sues under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The claim fails under Rule 12 for failure to state a claim. Inmates are entitled to humane but not comfortable treatment. On which side of the equation does this case fall? Is it humane to forcefully drive a bus with passengers who are not strapped in? Or is this simply a case about discomfort? Every federal court to have resolved this issue seems to have rejected these claims under the Eighth Amendment. So does the Second Circuit, which writes:

the failure to provide a seatbelt is not, in itself, "sufficiently serious" to constitute an Eighth Amendment violation. ... While seatbelts may offer 'reasonable safety' for the general public, on a prison bus their presence could present safety and security concerns. Inmates, even handcuffed or otherwise restrained, could use seatbelts as weapons to harm officers, other passengers, or themselves. A correctional facility's use of vehicles without seatbelts to transport inmates, when based on legitimate penological concerns rather than an intent to punish, is reasonable.

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