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What Should Be Done When Prisoners Want To take the State to Court

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1987
5 pages
After describing the process through which inmate cases are handled in Federal district courts, this article discusses factors influencing why some States experience more inmate suits than others and considers alternative methods for addressing inmate grievances.
Data were obtained from four selected U.S. district courts: Colorado, Maryland, Western District for Virginia, and Wyoming. The quantitative analysis of how and why the rate of Section 1983 suits varies across States is based on a compilation and analysis of information gathered from a number of sources. Data indicate that the workload of a majority of Section 1983 cases is handled by Federal magistrates and pro se law clerks rather than judges. Costs of such litigation include the cost of defending State officials, the cost of corrections' officials participation in proceedings, court costs (staff time and administrative costs). Statistical analysis results suggest that the probability of Section 1983 suits being filed in a given State is persistently due to the degree of litigiousness among inmates. Other factors, such as levels of services, violence, and extent of overcrowding only occasionally contribute to the explanations of the variance in case volume. Suggestions for improving the process fo resolving inmate grievances include consultation by governors, attorneys general, and correctional commissioners to determine how grievance mechanisms might be improved and research into what causes inmate litigiousness and how correctional systems can best respond to it. 3 tables.

Date Published: January 1, 1987