Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Missouri Acts to Reduce Inmates' Lawsuits

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Missouri Acts to Reduce Inmates' Lawsuits

Article excerpt

House Bill 424, which will go into effect on Aug. 28, will reduce the number of unnecessary inmate lawsuits filed and direct a dose of just deserts to those felons who abuse the court system.

The law requires inmates to exhaust all administrative remedies prior to filing suit in state court, to pay a filing fee and to be subject to cash fines or loss of good time when they knowingly abuse the system. It is a pointed message to frivolous and malicious filers that they will be held accountable for their excesses.

When the Carnahan administration took charge in January 1993, Missouri ranked second nationally in the percentage of civil rights suits filed by prisoners in comparison to all other citizens in the state: One-half of 1 percent of Missouri's population was filing more than 27 percent of all civil rights suits in Missouri.

Since then, the number of prisoner suits has dropped sharply.

Lawsuits pending per 100 inmates dropped from 11.01 on Dec. 31, 1989, to 10.43 on Dec. 31, 1992 and more dramatically since Jan. 1, 1993 to 5.09 per 100 inmates today. The total number of active lawsuits is 994, an eight-year low but still far too high. With HB 424 in place, further reductions should be realized.

Some have expressed concern that this new law may be applied improperly and curtail legitimate complaints about prison conditions. There is strong evidence to the contrary. The Department of Corrections has effectively initiated policies and practices to reduce inmate complaints before they become lawsuits or grievances.

In 1989, the department began a formal grievance procedure to stop litigation before it starts by standardizing steps to follow when lodging complaints. This was instituted systemwide in 1991 and certified by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1992. The certified grievance procedure includes an appeals process from the facility to central office to an independent board of 12 professional correctional volunteers who serve the state as the Citizens Advisory Committee. …

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