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NCJ Number: 200637 Find in a Library
Title: Inmate Litigation
Journal: Harvard Law Review  Volume:116  Issue:6  Dated:April 2003  Pages:1555-1706
Author(s): Margo Schlanger
Date Published: April 2003
Page Count: 150
Type: Legislation/Policy Analysis
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This article examines inmate litigation and its impact before and after the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) which imposed sweeping topic-specific Federal tort reform, thereby shutting the courthouse doors to many inmates.
Abstract: In 1995, inmates filed close to 40,000 new Federal civil lawsuits, 19 percent of the Federal civil docket. However, based on a highly critical vision of the effects of inmate litigation, Congress enacted the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) in 1996. The intent was to help bring relief to a civil justice system overburdened by frivolous prisoner lawsuits. The statute altered corrections litigation by imposing filing fees on even indigent inmates, requiring them to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing a lawsuit, and limiting their damage and attorney fees. This article examines inmate litigation before and after the PLRA. The article is divided into six sections and begins by looking at the cases in the courthouse, focusing on Federal filings because little information about State cases is available. In Part II, it examines the inmate docket looking at the outcomes of the cases, how many get dismissed, how many are settled, how many are tried, and with what result. The purpose is to compare inmate and non-inmate case outcomes. Part III summarizes the provisions of the PLRA and the legal regime it replaced. Part IV examines the impact of the PLRA on filings and outcomes, arguing that the PLRA reduced the quantity of inmate lawsuits but its interventions were far from neutral for constitutionally meritorious cases. Part V looks outside the courthouse to the operational and deterrent effects of individual inmate litigation on jail and prison administrators. The final section offers some concluding thoughts. Preliminary evidence indicates that the PLRA failed the challenge of limiting the number of bad cases. The project of minimizing the litigation burden could be better served through several available approaches. A softened PLRA might include provisions around filing fees, exhaustion, attorney fees, and screening. However, the current political climate makes it unlikely that Congress will revisit the PLRA and solve some of its problems. Data appendix
Main Term(s): Inmate lawsuits
Index Term(s): Civil litigation; Federal courts; Federal legislation; Indigents; Inmates; Jailhouse lawyers; Laws and Statutes; Lawsuits; Legal fees; Legal system; Prisoner's rights
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