Skip to Main Content

Cruel and Unusual Punishment and Constitutional Rights

Essential Question: 

What constitutes as cruel and unusual punishment in the United States?

Guiding Questions: 

  • Does fining and imprisoning people for sleeping in public spaces violate the Eighth Amendment? 
  • What punishments do and don’t violate the Eighth Amendment for other crimes? 


  • Students will analyze the meaning of the Eighth Amendment 
  • Students will draw their own conclusions about what constitutes a violation of the Eighth Amendment 



The Constitution provides protections for both the accused as well as those convicted of crimes. However, questions persist over how those protections should be applied in various circumstances.  

 Homelessness has been a growing concern in the United States, and cities have formulated policies to address the problem. A town in Oregon passed a law that imposed fines and potentially jail time for people found sleeping in public areas. The law is intended to encourage homeless people to utilize resources that are available for their use, but opponents of the law say it punishes people for being homeless—a circumstance they argue is out of the control of the unhoused. Therefore, they argue, to punish them constitutes a violation of the Eighth Amendment.  


Have students watch the Homework Help video on the Eighth Amendment. Alternatively, for a shorter lesson, students can just read the text of the Eighth Amendment here. Then discuss the meaning of the amendment, and ways that it is applied in the country. 


Have students read the news article and answer the comprehension and analysis questions below. Then have them fill out the graphic organizer. 

Comprehension and Analysis Questions

  1. Describe the law passed by the local government in Grants Pass, Oregon. 
  2. In your own words, explain the constitutional argument of the party bringing the lawsuit against the town. 
  3. In your own words, explain the constitutional argument Grants Pass officials make in defense of the law. 
  4. Do you believe that the law violates the Eighth Amendment? Why or why not? 


Our Think the Vote platform is designed to encourage students to engage with each other on current event topics. This week, our question is: Do Laws Banning Homeless Encampments Constitute “Cruel and Unusual Punishment”? Students with the best response on each side of the debate will win an Amazon gift card and be entered for a chance to win the $1,000 grand prize at the end of the year. Referring teachers will also win a gift card, pocket constitutions, and BRI swag! 

Related Content