Congress approved the Prison Litigation Reform Act in 1996. A lot of critics of this legislation have judged it as unfairly limiting the ability of inmates to bring forward federal court lawsuits relating to prisoner abuse. Let's take a look at the five major provisions of the PLRA:
-- Prisoners cannot simply file a federal lawsuit at the first sign of abuse. Prisoners have to first utilize and exhaust all internal prison grievance protocols concerning the abuse. Only then can they file a federal lawsuit.
-- Prisoners need to pay their federal court filing fees. This can be done via a single payment or it can be done through monthly installments.
-- Courts can automatically dismiss a lawsuit filed by a prisoner that the court deems to be malicious, frivolous or improper. When a court throws out a case, the prisoner will receive a "strike" on his record. After three strikes, the prisoner cannot file another lawsuit unless the prisoner pays fees upfront. When inmates face the risk of serious physical injury, they can waive this three-strikes provision.
-- Prisoners are not permitted to file emotional or mental injury claims unless they can also prove a physical injury.
-- When judges deem that a prisoner filed a lawsuit to harass, lied in a lawsuit or brought forwarded false information, judges can strip the inmate of good behavior credits.
As any New York resident can see, the PLRA is not the prisoner's friend, and it does indeed restrict prisoners' rights. However, prisoners can stand up for their rights under the current legal climate. If a prison is creating an abusive environment for you or a loved one, a civil rights lawyer who works with prisoners can review your potential claim and determine what can be done to help your situation.
Source: FindLaw, "Rights of Inmates," accessed Dec. 15, 2016