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Congress, Courts and Corrections: An Empirical Perspective on the Prison Litigation Reform Act

NCJ Number
Notre Dame Law Review Volume: 78 Issue: 5 Dated: August 1, 2003
Date Published
37 pages

This article attempts to analyze the effects of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, specifically examining the volume, trend, and outcome of prisoner litigation, and focuses attention on directions for future inquiry.


The authors of this article attempt to fill a gap in information regarding the effects of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) and addresses concerns of both the critics and proponents of the Act. The critics’ concerns being that new provisions such as those related to filing fees and three strikes will be precluded filing of the meritorious as well as the frivolous, and the proponents’ concerns are that the elimination of frivolous lawsuits has been the source of the drop in Section 1983 case filings. The authors analyze the decrease in 1983 litigation, noting the exception of the Fifth Circuit, where a decrease in Section 1983 filings occurred before the new law was adopted and continued after it was passed. The authors conclude that a comprehensive assessment of the change in the manner of case resolution before and after the passage of PLRA demands a case-level examination of its effect on the composition of Section 1983 lawsuits docketed and resolved, and they ask questions that require answers before a determination can be made about the fairness and efficiency of PLRA in eliminating procedurally weak cases without impeding the flow of meritorious cases into federal courts.

Date Published: January 1, 2003