This Article is part of the University of Miami Law Review’s Leading from Below Symposium. It canvasses prisoners’ lawyers’ strategies prompted by the 1996 Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). The strategies comply with the statute’s limits yet also allow U.S. district courts to remain a forum for the vindication of the constitutional rights of at least some of the nation’s millions of prisoners. After Part I’s introduction, Part II summarizes in several charts the PLRA’s sharp impact on the prevalence and outcomes of prison litigation, but demonstrates that there are still many cases and situations in which courts continue to play a role. Part III looks at three methods by which plaintiffs and defendants can jointly obtain injunctive- type relief in prison cases—by crafting stipulations that comply with the PLRA’s constraints, by structuring the relief as a conditional dismissal, or by setting up the possibility of state-court enforcement. Part IV examines plaintiffs’ coping methods for the PLRA’s provisions that ease the path to termination of decrees, whether litigated or by consent. Two types of preparation for a termination motion have emerged: First, the parties sometimes agree to stretch out the remediation period more than the PLRA’s default two years. Second, plaintiffs have worked to ensure that they are collecting sufficient information to inform their potentially hurried response to a termination motion. It is my hope that the examples presented below can help counsel and judges in prisoners’ rights cases thread the needle that the PLRA presents. More theoretically, the examples demonstrate that litigation tactics and procedures are dynamic—that rule changes affect the parties’ bargaining positions but rarely eliminate bargaining altogether.
Schlanger, Margo. "Prisoners' Rights Lawyers' Strategies for Preserving the Role of the Courts." U. Miami L. Rev. 69, no. 2 (2015): 519-57.