REFORM THE PRISON LITIGATION REFORM ACT:
TOP 10 HARMFUL PLRA RESULTS
1. A court found that several men who were raped and sodomized by a corrections officer could not seek damages for their abuse because their allegations of sexual assault did not constitute the "physical injury" required by the PLRA is such cases.
2. Corrections staff allowed the rape and repeated assault of a child detainee. The boy's lawsuit was thrown out of court because he did not file a formal grievance, even though he feared further abuse if he reported the incidents, and even though his mother repeatedly contacted prison and juvenile court officials to try to get them to stop the abuse. To satisfy the PLRA's exhaustion requirement, the boy would have had to file his formal grievance within 48 hours of any incident he complained about.
3. Jail staff beat a man who asked for formal grievance forms. The staff not only inflicted new injuries, but also extremely aggravated the man‘s preexisting skull fracture. Although the facility did not deny that the man then participated in an internal investigation against one of the staff members, after which the staff member was punished, the court found that he had failed to exhaust his formal administrative grievances and threw out his lawsuit. Under the PLRA, he had to go through every level of appeal available in the formal grievance process and do so perfectly before he could bring a lawsuit.
4. A corrections officer opened the sealed medical records of an HIV-positive man and announced this confidential information to other prisoners. The court threw out his lawsuit for lack of "physical injury" under the PLRA.
5. Two men were housed in a bare, squalid isolation cell, where they had to defecate into a clogged floor drain. They had no means to wash and were forced to sleep on the bare cell floor, which was covered with sewage and vomit. The court concluded that any harm they suffered as a result of these unconscionable conditions, which were not denied by the jail, was trivial and did not constitute "physical injury," which the PLRA requires.
6. A man was forced to stand in a two-and-a half foot square cage for twelve hours, during ten of which he was naked. He was in a tremendous amount of pain due to leg injuries from a previous motorcycle accident that were exacerbated from the prolonged standing. His leg was visibly swollen and he repeatedly asked to see a doctor, but his requests were all denied. The court ruled that his suffering was not serious enough for a lawsuit under the PLRA‘s "physical injury" requirement.
7. A man filed formal grievances after being harassed by fellow inmates. In response, the prison officers sprayed his cell with gas, punched him twice in the face, and later contaminated his food with feces. The man‘s lawsuit was thrown out of court because the only "visible" physical injury was an abrasion on his head and that was not enough to go forward under the PLRA.
8. A court threw out a suit by women challenging their strip-searches by male corrections officers. One of the women had subsequently attempted suicide allegedly as a result of the trauma of the strip search. The court decided that the women had shown no "physical injuries" and that they had failed to exhaust the grievance system, even though they had given written complaints about the searches to prison officials. Under the PLRA, the court had no choice but to throw out the lawsuit.
9. A jury found that corrections officers trumped up disciplinary charges in order to keep a man in "super max" confinement in extreme isolation for over a year in retaliation for his First Amendment-protected complaints about prison conditions. The court affirmed the judge‘s decision to not allow any monetary damages to the man, because he did not have a PLRA "physical injury."
10. A man was denied a kosher diet in accordance with his Jewish beliefs. After a trial, the jury found that the defendant was responsible and awarded the man damages for the denial of his right to practice his religion. The appellate court threw out the award, because forcing a man to violate his religious beliefs is not a "physical injury" within the requirement of the PLRA.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT AMY FETTIG, (202) 548-6608