If prisoner rights are not protected, then it becomes easy to take "free citizens" and make them prisoners. Say the ruling political body declares a group they don't like, such as GreenPeace to be "terrorists". And that therefore, terrorists don't get the same rights as normal citizens, allowing the government to do things like monitor, threaten and spy on members of GreenPeace in a effort to shut it down. That kind of behavior is a huge threat to democracy.
It has gotten to the point that some prisoners have better rights than non felons. In Massachusetts, a prisoner can get a free sex change. Many prisoners get free cable TV. They also get to bring litigation for free without any prior judgment of the merits of the case. Prison should be punishment.
People imprisoned have lost a few of their rights as a reminder what benefits they have through the society they offended, in the hopes that they will not forget again and leave prison a resocialized person.
That is the price for crime our society has agreed upon. If they don't like that or this agreement is abused by a government, people have the right to turn to another country, either as immigrants or as asylum seekers.
But beyond these rights they lost, prisoners are still humans and all humans are to be treated equal, as per the Declaration Of Human Rights. This means that the violation of any right beyond those stated in the penal law may not be tolerated.
Our law is the basis of our society. Whoever violates any law violates society. Hence any right that we have conceded to prisoners must be upheld with the same resolve that ANY OTHER RIGHT must be upheld.
Our law is a mutually binding contract, and there may be no discrimination, or we defile and disgrace ourselves.
Nobody is above the law, but as a society we may never sink below it, either. The law is the ultimate threshold.
I believe that free people should always have their rights protected to the maximum extent that the law allows at all times and I believe that prisoners should have their rights protected the vast majority of time as well the only exception is because of safety and security reasons that their rights may be limited.
No, protecting the rights of prisoners is not more important than protecting the rights of free, regular citizens. Prisoners have already done something that put them in a situation where they have less rights than free people, such as the fact that they can not come and go as they please. They put themselves in this situation.
It is slightly cliche, but prisoners made their own decision to violate the laws in society and choose not to be participating members. Therefore they have earned less rights, even if they may be just as worthy of them. By their nature, prisoners require restrictions for their own safety as well as the safety of others.
I know there is probably some warped ideological ethical reason and thinking behind a question such as this, but to even consider that protecting a prisoner's rights is more important than the Innocent's is really silly. Especially if said prisoners are of the violent or murderous type. Should not even be considered.