Life in prison is different from life on the outside, to say the least. Two recent court decisions touched on aspects of these differences.
An inmate who was serving a sentence for robbery applied to have his name changed and asked that the court filing fees be waived because he couldn’t afford them. In considering the inmate’s request, the court noted that anyone may change his name without need of a court order provided he is not changing his name for purposes of fraud, deceit, or avoidance of obligations. The court also observed that indigent persons may not be denied access to the courts to assert or defend their fundamental rights simply because they cannot afford court filing fees. The court, however, ruled that changing one’s name is not a fundamental right and therefore denied the inmate poor-person status. The inmate thus would have to pay the court filing fee in seeking his new name. Said the court, “the taxpayers of the State of New York are not required to pay for an individual’s judicial name change.”
In another correctional facility case, a prison guard suffered disabling injuries when he slipped and fell in the mess hall shortly after the floor had been mopped by an inmate. The guard applied for disability retirement benefits under a state statute that awards such benefits to correctional personnel who sustain injuries in the course of duty as the result of “an act of an inmate.” The court reviewed the history of this statute and noted that it had been enacted because an increase in the prison population had created an increase in altercations among inmates and between inmates and correction officers. The court observed that “the statute was clearly intended to compensate correction officers who, because of the risks created by their daily contact with certain persons who are dangerous and profoundly antisocial, become permanently disabled as a natural and proximate result of an act of any inmate.” In view of this history, however, the court confirmed the denial of benefits to the guard. The court said that “mopping a floor-a benign chore routinely performed in penal institutions by inmates-is clearly not, in and of itself, the type of activity that was intended to trigger” the benefits afforded to correction officers under the statute.
Needless to say, things are different in prison.