Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2015

Abstract

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), enacted in 1996 as part of the Newt Gingrich "Contract with America," is now as old as some prisoners. In the year after the statute's passage, some commenters labeled it merely "symbolic." In fact, as was evident nearly immediately, the PLRA undermined prisoners' ability to bring, settle, and win lawsuits. The PLRA conditioned court access on prisoners' meticulously correct prior use of onerous and error-inviting prison grievance procedures. It increased filing fees, decreased attorneys' fees, and limited damages. It subjected injunctive settlements to the scope limitations usually applicable only to litigated injunctions. It made prison and jail population caps - previously common - far more difficult to obtain. And it put in place a rule inviting frequent relitigation of injunctive remedies, whether settled or litigated. The resulting impact on jail and prison litigation has been extremely substantial. In two articles about a decade ago, I presented descriptive statistics showing the PLRA-caused decline in civil rights filings and plaintiffs' victories, and the likewise declining prevalence of court-ordered regulation of jails and prisons. More up-to-date information has not been published, so here I update those statistics for use by policymakers, judges, and other researchers, and discuss them briefly.


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