The Eighth Amendment prohibits, among other things, "cruel and unusual punishment." In the prison context, the United States Supreme Court historically applied this clause solely to protect prisoners from unfair sentences. It was not until 1976, 185 years after the adoption of the Eighth Amendment that the Supreme Court found cruel and unusual punishment protections to apply to events or conditions experienced by prisoners during incarceration. In Estelle v. Gamble, the Court granted Eighth Amendment protections to a prisoner alleging deprivations during imprisonment. After 1976, the Court seemed to move away from the "hands-off' doctrine, which traditionally granted deference to prison officials, and began to recognize more rigid standards controlling the conduct of prison officials in an effort to protect prisoners' rights. However, with the emergence of the Rehnquist Court, prisoners began to see the erosion of some of their newfound protections, primarily by two decisions." The Court's recent decision in Hudson v. McMillian is a significant victory for prisoner's rights, and an indication that the present Court is not completely willing to adopt the hands-off doctrine.
L. A. Parrott Jr.,
Hudson v. McMillian and Prisoners' Rights in the 1990s: Is the Supreme Court Now More Responsive to "Contemporaneous Standards of Decency"?,
U. Rich. L. Rev.
Available at: http://scholarship.richmond.edu/lawreview/vol27/iss1/8