Thanks to Lois at the Real Cost of Prisons Project for passing this on to us. Perhaps in the meantime the draft legislation could be used a the foundation for new state legislation to remedy prison abuse.
Letter to the Editor: Abuse of Female Prisoners
Published: October 2, 2009
To the Editor: New York Times
Re “Prisoners’ Rights” (editorial, Sept. 24):
You are right to call for legislation amending the Prison Litigation Reform Act. We sued on behalf of female prisoners in the New York State prison system who reported that they had been sexually assaulted by staff members, and have been appalled to spend the last six years litigating whether these 17 women — each of whom bravely complained of her abuse to departmental officials — exhausted their administrative remedies sufficiently to satisfy the law.
As a result, New York State has been able to avoid addressing the prison system’s longstanding failure to protect female prisoners from sexual abuse, allowing more and more women to be victimized.
The Prison Litigation Reform Act was sold in Congress as a measure against frivolous litigation, but has served in reality to prevent the redress of the most serious violations of prisoners’ human rights. The time has come for reform, or better yet, repeal of the law.
New York, Sept. 24, 2009
The writers are lawyers with the Prisoners’ Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society and lawyers for the plaintiffs in Amador v. Andrews.
Editorial - NY Times
Published: September 23, 2009
In 1996, Congress passed a law that made it much harder for inmates to challenge abusive treatment. It has contributed significantly to the bad conditions — including the desperate overcrowding — that prevail today.
The law must be fixed.
Times Topics: Prisons and Prisoners
In the name of clamping down on frivolous lawsuits, the Prison Reform Litigation Act barred prisoners from suing prisons and jails unless they could show that they had suffered a physical injury. Prison officials have used this requirement to block lawsuits challenging all sorts of horrific conditions, including sexual abuse.
The law also requires inmates to present their claims to prison officials before filing a suit. The prisons set the rules for those grievance procedures, notes Stephen Bright, the president of the Southern Center for Human Rights, and they have an incentive to make the rules as complicated as possible, so prisoners will not be able to sue. “That has become the main purpose of many grievance systems,” Mr. Bright told Congress last year.
In the last Congress, Representative Robert Scott, Democrat of Virginia, sponsored the Prison Abuse Remedies Act. It would have eliminated the physical injury requirement and made it harder for prison officials to get suits dismissed for failure to exhaust grievance procedures. It would have exempted juveniles, who are especially vulnerable to abuse, from the law’s restrictions.
The bill’s supporters need to try again this year. Conditions in the nation’s overcrowded prisons are becoming increasingly dangerous; recently, there have been major riots in California and Kentucky. Prisoner lawsuits are a way of reining in the worst abuses, which contribute to prison riots and other violence.
The main reason to pass the new law, though, is human decency. The only way to ensure that inmates are not mistreated is to guarantee them a fair opportunity to bring their legitimate complaints to court.
This and other news about women and mass incarceration can be found at www.realcostofprisons.org/