Perceptions of the Consequences of the Prison Litigation Reform Act: A Comparison of State Attorneys General and Federal District Judges

By Smith, Christopher E.; Nelson, Christopher E. | Justice System Journal, January 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Perceptions of the Consequences of the Prison Litigation Reform Act: A Comparison of State Attorneys General and Federal District Judges


Smith, Christopher E., Nelson, Christopher E., Justice System Journal


This study examines the consequences of the Prison Litigation Reform Act by comparing survey responses of state attorneys general and federal district judges. Respondents from both groups agreed that the act reduced prisoner lawsuits, deterred prisoners from initiating civil-rights litigation, and had led to the termination of judicial orders and consent decrees and the cessation of the use of special masters in supervising judicial remedies. The two groups diverged in their perceptions of whether the act deters federal judges from taking remedial action and whether federal judges faithfully comply with the statute's requirements. These differences may reflect the judiciary's inclination to defend its image, yet the judges did not demonstrate such self-protectiveness when asked whether the act infringed upon judicial authority. This issue may reflect tension between judges' desire to protect their authority and their interest in reducing their prisoner caseloads. Overall, the act appears to be reducing prisoner litigation and limiting judges' authority to order remedies in prisoners' cases.

Congress enacted the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 (PLRA) to accomplish several related objectives.1 The act imposed barriers on prisoners' ability to file civil-rights lawsuits against state officials, and it limited the authority of federal judges to order remedies in prisoners' civil-rights cases. If policymaking is viewed as redistributing or defining benefits and burdens, prisoners bore significant new burdens in filing civilrights lawsuits, and states gained benefits through additional protections against liability and judicial remedies. In addition, the federal judiciary was both an intended beneficiary and the bearer of additional burdens. Because many judicial officers viewed prisoners' lawsuits as unduly burdensome and rarely meritorious, the statute sought to benefit judges by reducing their caseloads of prisoner lawsuits. Simultaneously, the PLRA diminished judges' authority to order remedies in cases concerning prisoners' rights.

Because of the substantial growth of prison populations nationwide during the 1990s, the PLRA has special significance for prisoners, government attorneys, and the courts. With nearly two million people housed in American prisons and jails at the dawn of the twenty-first century, the act will shape the definition and application of constitutional rights for prisoners, the workloads and expenses of state and federal attorneys general offices, and the caseloads of federal courts. The PLRA's impact may be even more important if it produces unanticipated consequences that create new burdens rather than advance intended objectives. This study seeks to evaluate the impact of the PLRA through the eyes of its intended beneficiaries and thereby assess the consequences of the statute for current and future judicial policymaking in corrections.

Background of Prison Litigation Reform Act

Advocates of federalism and judicial restraint supported the PLRA because they believed that states were burdened excessively by undue judicial interference in correctional administration (Solano, 1997). The PLRA responded to state governments' complaints about the high costs of defending against prisoners' "frivolous" lawsuits (Camp, 1997). The National Association of Attorneys General has been described as "a moving force in getting the [PLRA] through Congress," so it is no surprise that the statute seeks to limit litigation by state prisoners and constrain intervention in state corrections systems by federal judges ("Inmate Litigation and the PLRA," 1996). In addition, the act addressed some federal judges' long-standing concerns about the caseload burdens imposed by prisoner litigation (Johnsen, 1976). As illustrated by the federal judge who responded to this survey by commenting, "Prisoner litigation is out of control!," some judges feel strongly that steps must be taken to reduce legal filings by prisoners. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Perceptions of the Consequences of the Prison Litigation Reform Act: A Comparison of State Attorneys General and Federal District Judges
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.