rejected by the courts and no where to turn

25 years of The Prison Litigation Reform Act preventing incarcerated people from suing for abuse, assault and human rights violations, your Friday long read from The Appeal

We go to The Appeal for this weeks long read by Easha Anand, Emily Clark and Daniel Greenfield. Read the whole article “How The Prison Litigation Reform Act Has Failed For 25 Years.” We include key excerpts below to convince you it’s worth your time!

The PLRA was passed 25 years ago to get rid of frivolous lawsuits, but it effectively shut the door on court access for incarcerated people

“Steven Zick was 16 when he was subjected to “initiation” in the South Bend, Indiana juvenile jail. For Steven, “initiation” meant being beaten so badly by the other kids that he had a seizure. When guards found Steven twitching and foaming at the mouth, they did nothing. He was assaulted again the next day, starting a pattern of repeated beatings that continued for months. Once, he was beaten with a sock filled with padlocks; another time, he was raped. By the time he left juvenile detention, Steven was on suicide watch.”


“Steven ultimately filed suit against the correctional officials who were supposed to have kept him safe. But thanks to a statute called the Prison Litigation Reform Act, or PLRA, his suit was kicked out of court—not because he failed to prove his case, but because Steven had not “exhausted” his claims by filing an official report within the prison.
Passed in 1996 as the nation’s prison population was exploding thanks to the war on drugs, the PLRA was supposed to weed out the sort of frivolous prisoner litigation Congress perceived as bombarding the federal courts. Testimony of legislators urging the PLRA’s passage focused on sensationalized and largely mythical claims about “a defective haircut by a prison barber, the failure of prison officials to invite a prisoner to a pizza party, and, yes, being served chunky peanut butter instead of the creamy variety.” By dismissing real cries for help as frivolous, disingenuous, and opportunist, lawmakers built the PLRA on dehumanizing and inaccurate stereotypes of incarcerated men and women.”

Bottom line

“Instead of preserving judicial resources, the PLRA has helped to preserve cruel and inhumane conditions inside America’s prisons and jails. With the courthouse doors effectively closed, incarcerated people have few means to challenge or expose the dire conditions in which they are forced to live. Lawsuits offer more than a legal remedy. They also create a public record, providing essential information about an environment that is otherwise literally walled off from public view. Without access to courts, not only are individual harms never redressed, but broader systemic reform remains out of reach. Dangerous living conditions, the psychological horrors of solitary confinement, beatings and rape, disastrous healthcare—all are concealed from view and persist unchecked.”

“The PLRA blocks claims primarily through three particular provisions—the exhaustion provision, the three strikes provision, and the physical injury provision—each of which has slammed shut the courthouse doors to thousands upon thousands of litigants without regard to whether their claims are frivolous or meritorious.”

Read the whole article here.

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