Prison walls are not a barrier separating prisoners from protections of the Constitution.
Purkey, Wesley I.
Prison Waits are not a Barrier Separating Prisoners From Protections of the Constitution.
By Wesley I. Purkey / Federal Death Row
"As Long as the World Shall Last There will be Wrongs, and if No Man Rebelled, Those Wrongs Would Last Forever." - Clarence Darrow - American Trial Lawyer - 1930
The most precious Constitutional Right a prisoner has is his or her right of access to the Courts. Without it, all other Constitutional Rights are illusory. Without distinction to non-prisoner litigants, prisoners are subject to intricate procedural requirements prior to filing lawsuits in Federal Court. This is because of legislation enacted under the pseudo by congress to curb a run-on prisoner's frivolous lawsuits. The undeclared motivation behind this Bill is that by nature our government displays an enduring tendency to silence, or facilitate silence, those voices that it disapproves of. This tendency is particularly pronounced in prison because of its authoritarian structure, insulated and isolated from public scrutiny. To achieve and advance this position Congress enacted the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") in 1996. Prison and jail ofﬁcials quickly found this new enactment to beneﬁt them, twisting it to their advantage, preventing prisoners from gaining viable access to the courts. Here are some of the clever ways they achieved doing this.
No Bill before or since the enactment of the PLRA has been so detrimental and had such injurious results on prisoners First Amendment Right to petition the courts for redress of grievances other than the one astutely orchestrated by the ﬁne Senators from Kansas and Arizona, respectfully Dole and Kyl during the 141st Congress. The PLRA amended 42 U.S.C. 1997 and relevant section 1997e(a) states in pertinent part:
[N]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 Of this title, or any other Federal law by a prisoner conﬁned in any jail, prison or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.
This Bill has severely curtailed prisoner's abilities to actually receive a fair ruling on their cases in Federal Court. It also caused enormous confusion and controversy amongst both prisoners and the courts as to what constituted conditions of confinement claims and what claims might be exempt from the exhaustion requirements. The Supreme Court laid these concerns to rest in holding that the PLRA exhaustion requirements applies to all inmate lawsuits about prison life, whether alleging denial of medical treatment, inhumane conditions of confinement, being subjected to excessive force at the hands of prison guards, failure to protect claims or any other alleged wrongs committed behind prison waits, *(Emphasis Added). The speciousness of this Bill is easily seen with only minimal scrutiny and the ulterior motive comes shining through which is to prevent prisoners from gaining access to the courts.
Prisoners who have pretty much fallen from the good graces of society are often exploited for political gain. Political points are always scored by politicians who are the driving forces behind legislation that appears to be hard on criminals or crime. But appearances can sometimes be very deceiving. The lonely voice of the Nay Sayers against the enactment of this Bill were totally drowned out by the loud, fervor and blustering of those who sought to suppress prisoner's First Amendment Rights. None of the zealots, including the prominent Senator Bob Dole, could muster so much as a scintilla of compelling evidence supporting this appalling Bill. That is beyond the tiresome wailing of some of the most ﬂagrant and frivolous lawsuits ﬁled by a selective handful of prisoners. Even for the sake of argument, if this legislation provided some relief from prisoner's frivolous lawsuits, which it doesn't, it is merely throwing the baby out with the bath water. It is hard to ﬁnd any distinction between prisoner's frivolous lawsuits and that of non-prisoners, but even absent that consideration, this Bill has the proven propensity impeding prisoner's meritorious lawsuits from ever being ruled upon. In this case it is explicitly true that, [I]t is just as well that justice is blind; she might not like some of the things done in her name if she could see them.* And that is the case here!
Senator Orrin Hatch offered that the PLRA will bring relief to a civil justice system overburdened by frivolous prisoner lawsuits...and will help ensure that Federal Courts...remedy only actual violations taking place behind prison walls. *This is certainly a Pollyanna pipe dream where no prisoner's viable litigation would go without redress and only the frivolous would be quickly dismissed. Nothing in this case could be further from the truth and overwhelming evidence sustains that position. Under the PLRA, prisoner's lawsuits are summarily dismissed over eighty percent of the time without ever gaining an actual ruling on the merits of the case. This is supposedly because the prisoner made a conscious decision to bypass exhausting administrative remedies before going to court. The reality of the matter is that prison and jail officials are keenly aware that if prisoners are prevented from exhausting all available administrative remedies, then the prisoner will be foreclosed from ever gaining a ruling on the merits of his case. Thereby, prison and jail officials can literally run roughshod over prisoner's Constitutional Rights with total impunity. There are numerous ways prisoners are prevented by prison and jail ofﬁcials from satisfying exhaustion requirements through both direct and indirect means, including subjecting prisoners to an array of different methods of reprisal for filing grievances and lawsuits. So, contrary to Senator Hatch's contentions that the Bill will actually improve prisoners non-frivolous lawsuits getting to the courts. The results of the Bill could not be more harmful to achieving that goal.
Absent the skewing of the PLRA by prison and jail officials and the adverse results of the Bill itself there are other reasons so many of the two million plus crowded behind prison walls are prevented from satisfying exhaustion requirements. It is a given that the majority behind prison walls are of societies underprivileged. The majority of those have only meager to intermediate education. Others are illiterate or suffer insurmountable language barriers and/or both. Yet another particularly disadvantaged group which is probably the fastest growing segment of the prison population are those suffering mental illness. All of these groups simply do not have the abilities to mount the procedural barriers by themselves, as other more resolved and resilient prisoners do in getting their cases to court. These prisoners must silently bear their abuses, suffering without redress. These individuals deserve to know why the procedural requirements under the PLRA are more important than their First Amendment Rights to seek redress for sufferings endured behind prison walls. For that matter why are they treated differently than non-prisoners who often also have lawsuits dismissed for being frivolous? These questions beg answers.
A case in point is a prisoner who filed a lawsuit alleging denial of medical treatment for a corneal disease he suffered and that eventually left him blind. The prison rejected his attempts to exhaust his administrative remedies because he did not timely file the first stage of the multi-level grievance process. After obtaining help from another prisoner he filed a lawsuit in Federal Court. Without so much as mentioning the issues of the litigation, the court, on its own motion, dismissed the case for the prisoner's failure to satisfy exhaustion requirements under 42 U.S.C. Section 1997e(a),.* Government was intended to suppress injustice, but the effect of this Bill has been to embody and perpetuate it.
Wesley I. Purkey [ID]
P.O. Box 12015
Terre Haute, IN 47801
*Porter v. Nussie (2002) 534 U.S. 516m532 *Author Unknown/The Citebook 18th Edition
*141 Congress Rec. Section 14408-01
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