When people are incarcerated, they lose certain rights that they held in the free world — but they don't lose all of them. For instance, if during their incarceration, they are killed or die due to the negligence of the prison staff, their survivors have the legal right to seek compensation for the loss of their loved one.
In recent years, the New York Department of Corrections has taken some hits for the alleged negligent treatment of some inmates. Particularly at risk have been inmates suffering from mental illness. The U.S. attorney specifically referred to Rikers Island juvenile facility's "culture of violence" in a report of more than 70 pages.
A media outlet reported that jail officials underreported fights at the jail, yet despite recommendations for two high-ranking officials to be demoted, a corrections commissioner whitewashed critical data from internal reports. The two prison officials even got promotions after it became known the reports were altered.
But families are fighting back. In 2014, the family of a Rikers Island inmate and veteran sued the city for their loved one's death in an overheated cell. The family accused the city of violating their relative's civil rights and of negligence.
The City of New York settled with the survivors for $2.25 million — and apologized to the inmate's mother.
The 56-year-old man was a former Marine who was homeless and arrested for trespassing. When he could not make bail, he was incarcerated at Rikers, where he subsequently died. His mother didn't learn of her son's death until she was informed a month later via a telephone call from an Associated Press reporter.
Jail is not supposed to be a luxury accommodation, but it is not supposed to be a death sentence for those accused of minor offenses, either. If you are injured while incarcerated, or if a relative dies while in police custody due to negligence, you may have grounds for a civil suit.
Source: Observer, "Stringer Announces $2.25 Million Rikers Island Wrongful Death Settlement," Jillian Jorgensen, accessed April 08, 2016