Saturday, February 17, 2007

Why Can't Prisons Be Made Safe For Prisoners: The Prison Litigation Reform Act and Qualified Immunity, Two Concepts That Are Bad Public Policy

The Volokh conspirators are having a lively debate about governments inability to stop or decrease prison rape. The following is a reprint of my input into that debate:

Enforce 1983 as written. NO Qualified Immunity, No Prison Litigation Reform Act. Trial lawyers can and will force government to do what it is supposed to do.

In response to troublesome nusiance suits brought by inmates, Congress passed a reform act that said they had a three stike rule. Bring a suit without merit 3 times and you can't bring one anymore without court permission. The concept was supposed to be to stop these ridiculous nusiance suits.

Except until you get to the part that says even if the prisoner is the prevailing party, the lawyers cannot get a legal fee beyond 1.5 times the amount granted to the prisoner. The point of that? Get those pain in the ass lawyers out of investigating prison misconduct by the government. The result has been a wholesale reduction in the number of suits bought by LAWYERS (who presumably know a good cause of action from a frivolous one.)It is a ridiculous rule and needs to be over turned. It can result in a lawyer working on behalf of all prisoners, getting them a real change in circumstances and because the monetary damages in the case are small or hard to quantify, the jury changes the rule or condition but only give the plaintiff Ten($10.00)Dollars. The attorney may put literally 300 hours into the trial and appeal of the case. His fee for all that work? Fifteen (15.00)Dollars.

The attorney's who bring these suits are ususally small and solo lawyers. They cannot afford to take a bad one. The law discourages outside legal experts from looking into the conditions of prisons. That renders these institutions unsafe. The law passed by Congress is bad public policy and flies in the face of the fee switching statute that accompanies civil rights cases under 42USC 1983, 1988.
Get rid of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (as to attorney's fees) and the Qualified Immunity defense and watch the prisons really become what they should be...Correctional institutions.
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