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Lee v. Washington

Prisoner Lawsuits

In 1996, Congress passed the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), which discouraged frivolous lawsuits by inmates. "When asked whether the . . . PLRA has helped corrections," wrote Susan B. Vandenbraak in Corrections Today, "I inevitably think about one of the inmates serving consecutive life sentences in Pennsylvania . . . To amuse himself, this offender files lawsuits." Vandenbraak went on to say that although this inmate was just one of 35,000 in a single institution, his litigation constituted three percent of the caseload emerging from the prisons. One case by another inmate involved a complaint because that individual had received crunchy peanut butter rather than smooth.

Clearly such cases are frivolous, and they impose an enormous burden on taxpayers, particularly through costly "consent decrees." But there is another side to the issue, as made plain by a 1997 National Public Radio (NPR) story about inmates who filed a lawsuit against a Georgia prison over what they charged was an unprovoked beating. If true, the incident could constitute a violation of civil rights, and many citizens would agree that prisoners ought to have a right to file such suits. The PLRA, according to Vandenbraak, "carefully protect[s] legitimate claims and preserve[s] the full power of the federal court to remedy constitutional violations."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Lee v. Washington - The Facts Of The Case, The Supreme Court Rules, Concurring Opinion, Prisoner Lawsuits, Further Readings