The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Mandy Simon, (202) 675-2312;

House Introduces Crucial Prison Litigation Reform Legislation

Bill Would Reform Law That Denies Access to Courts for Victims of Prison Rape and Other Abuses


Robert Scott (D-VA) introduced landmark legislation today that is aimed
at reforming how prisoners can bring lawsuits defending their rights.
Congressman Scott's bill would reform the Prison Litigation Reform Act
(PLRA) which was originally passed by Congress in 1996 as a way to stem
the tide against what were thought to be frivolous lawsuits by
prisoners. Since that time, the law has been used repeatedly to deny
justice to victims of rape, assault, religious rights violations and
other serious abuses. The American Civil Liberties Union has been
fighting for necessary reforms to the PLRA on several fronts and lauded
the introduction of Congressman Scott's bill, H.R. 4335, The Prison
Abuse Remedies Act of 2009 (PARA).

PLRA was passed to curb what were thought to be frivolous lawsuits but
it has instead slammed shut the doors of the courthouse to our
country's prisoners who have suffered true and legitimate harm," said
Michael Macleod-Ball, Acting Director of the ACLU Washington
Legislative Office. "Prisoners can suffer torture, unsanitary
conditions and degrading treatment and still not meet the requirements
to file a lawsuit under the PLRA. Our nation's prisoners should not
continue to be further shackled when it comes to their legal rights."

over a decade, the ACLU has opposed certain provisions of the PLRA that
prevent prisoners from bringing lawsuits about inhumane treatment and
undermine constitutional protections. For example, the PLRA requires
that prisoners exhaust the internal complaint process of their
correctional institution before they can file a lawsuit. This
requirement may sound simple, but in practice it allows prison
officials to apply complex and often arbitrary rules that make it
impossible for a prisoner to complete grievance processes, especially
if the prisoner is mentally ill, illiterate or a juvenile. In addition,
this requirement exposes prisoners to retaliation from guards,
especially where prisoners are required to give their paperwork to the
very guards who have abused them, leading to intimidation, more abuse
and a culture where prisoners fear filing complaints because the
consequences of standing up for one's rights can ultimately make life
in prison worse.

too long, prisoners have been impeded from seeking redress of their
most fundamental constitutional and human rights in federal court,"
said Amy Fettig, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project.
"It is imperative that the rule of law be returned to U.S. prisons and
jails by restoring the ability of federal courts to hold them
accountable for violating the Constitution."

of the worst requirements of the PLRA mandates that prisoners suffer a
narrowly defined physical injury in order to get compensatory damages.
Under this provision of the law, some courts have found that victims of
sexual assault or prisoners who have had their right to religious
freedom violated are denied relief under the law because they were not
"physically injured" for purposes of the PLRA.

of the PLRA to youth is especially dangerous because children are even
more vulnerable than adult prisoners to sexual abuse and other
victimization, and many youth either do not know of or do not
understand the grievance systems in their facilities, and many more
fear retaliation for filing grievances. As a result, the PLRA
effectively bars many incarcerated youths, their parents and advocates
from being able to address serious problems with their conditions of

PLRA only worsens an already crippled criminal justice system," said
Macleod-Ball. "The new bill is more important than ever with more than
one in 100 Americans behind bars, ever-shrinking state budgets and
increasingly abusive conditions of confinement. We urge Congress to
pass the Prison Abuse Remedies Act as quickly as possible."

For more information on PLRA visit:

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

(212) 549-2666