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The Governance of Corrections: Implications of the Changing Interface of Courts and Corrections

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2000
54 pages
This chapter traces the history of litigation and judicial intervention that has played a catalytic role in altering correctional policies and practices in America.
Judicial decisions have established legal standards for prison conditions and the treatment of prisoners. Prisoners have used the litigation process to seek judicial enforcement of these rights-based standards that restricted the autonomy previously enjoyed by corrections officials. Judicial intervention into corrections practices and policies transformed corrections by pushing all correctional institutions to become professionalized, bureaucratic organizations with formal procedures and legal norms. During the 1980's and 1990's, however, the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress used their authority to force a deceleration of Federal judges' involvement in correctional management. Court decisions and legislation narrowed the definitions of prisoners' rights, required greater judicial deference to correctional administrators, and limited both prisoners' effective use of civil rights litigation and Federal judges' remedial authority. Despite these developments, the standardization of institutional procedures under the supervision of trained correctional administrators should preserve the changes initiated by court decisions. Moreover, the threat of future litigation continues to protect against the abandonment of correctional standards. The future interface of courts and corrections depends largely on developments that affect correctional law and that shape the environment of corrections. The growth in prison populations and correctional personnel, the introduction of new technologies, and the privatization of corrections are likely to produce new issues that will attract judicial attention throughout the litigation process. 66 references

Date Published: January 1, 2000