Impact of the Prison Litigation Reform Act on Inmate Lawsuits Filed at the Appellate Court Level

Louis Veneziano, Southeast Missouri State University
Brandi Merideth, Southeast Missouri State University
Carol Veneziano, Southeast Missouri State University
Milo Miller, Southeast Missouri State University

ABSTRACT
Throughout most of America's history, courts had applied the "hands-off" doctrine with respect to prison litigation until the Supreme Court's decision in Cooper v. Pate (1964). This decision effectively allowed inmates to file civil lawsuits under Title 42 of the United States Code, Section 1983, if they felt that a prison or jail was denying their constitutional rights. The number of Section 1983 lawsuits continued to increase until Congress passed to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) in 1996 in an attempt to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits being filed by inmates. The present study attempted to empirically determine the impact of the PLRA by comparing the rates of civil lawsuits filed that were decided at the appellate court level by inmates both before and after its passage. The results indicated that the rate of lawsuits appealed for a four-year period of time after the passage of the PLRA (M = 461.15, SD = 76.56) was significantly lower than the rate of lawsuits appealed for a four-year period of time prior to the passage of the PLRA (M = 673.8, SD = 29.93). These results were discussed in terms of their theoretical and practical implications.



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Updated 05/20/2006