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Report on the Prison Litigation Reform Act: What Have the Courts Decided so Far?

NCJ Number
The Prison Journal Volume: 84 Issue: 3 Dated: September 2004 Pages: 290-316
Barbara Belbot
Rosemary L. Gido
Date Published
September 2004
27 pages
In reviewing court cases which have considered provisions from the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996, this article looks at what the courts have decided thus far and predicts future court opinions, specifically in the areas of reducing inmate litigation and reducing Federal court involvement in institutional reform.
Enacted in 1996 by Congress, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) responded to two Congressional concerns: (1) the amount of prisoner litigation and (2) the involvement of the Federal courts in the operations of State prison systems. Since this time, the PLRA has imposed significant restrictions on both prisoner litigants and Federal judges. This article reviews court cases that have considered the most important PLRA provisions. Divided into two sections, the first section reviews cases that have interpreted those parts of the stature aimed at reducing the amount of prisoner litigation. Three of the four Supreme Court decisions about the PLRA address the statute’s inmate lawsuit reduction provisions. One of the most important provisions of the PLRA requires prisoners to exhaust any remedies available through their inmate grievance system before filing a lawsuit. The second part of the article reviews court cases that have interpreted the PLRA’s attempts to curtail Federal court intervention in State prisons. One Supreme Court case has been decided in this area. The Supreme Court has not resolved all the constitutional questions about the PLRA. However, the Court has settled several key issues. It is apparent that the restrictions imposed by the PLRA are here to stay until such time as Congress significantly amends the act or repeals it. However, it remains to be seen if and how the PLRA affects the conditions in prisons and jails over time. Future research recommendations include: how will the restrictions on Federal court involvement affect conditions lawsuits; what happens in institutions subject to PLRA-restricted orders and decrees; will attorney fee restrictions on prisoner civil rights cases affect the willingness of attorneys to take on cases or the quality of work; will States improve their inmate grievance systems; and will inmates seek money damages in State courts for emotional-only injuries? References


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