E-NEWS - 2009

JDI Applauds Proposed Reforms to Notorious Prison Litigation Law


December 16, 2009 -

Today, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced a much needed piece of legislation - the Prison Abuse Remedies Act. If passed, this act will help end the widespread impunity enjoyed by corrections officials when inmates are raped on their watch.

The goal of the Prison Abuse Remedies Act is to amend the Prison Litigation Reform Act - a 1996 law that makes it virtually impossible for prisoner rape survivors to seek redress in court. While intended to limit the number of so-called frivolous lawsuits filed by inmates, this notorious law has instead barred survivors of the most egregious forms of sexual abuse from seeking justice.

The Prison Litigation Reform Act requires inmates who have been sexually assaulted while incarcerated to navigate the full internal grievance process at their facility before going to court - no matter how complicated, unrealistic, or illogical that process may be. Any misstep and a judge must dismiss the survivor's lawsuit. Due to trauma, hospitalization, or other medical or mental health issues, most rape survivors are unable even to meet the first deadline for filing a grievance - which often falls within days of an assault. In some places, inmates are required to file their complaints with a specific officer, even if that officer participated in the abuse.

To make matters worse, under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the few prisoner rape survivors who are able to get their cases into court cannot receive monetary damages unless they prove that they have been subjected to "physical harm." While it may seem obvious that sexual assault inherently involves physical harm, some courts have shockingly held otherwise.

The Prison Abuse Remedies Act will remove these and other unacceptable barriers to justice posed by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, finally offering equal justice under law to the more than 2.3 million people behind bars in the United States.

Just Detention International worked closely with Rep. Scott's office to ensure that the Prison Abuse Remedies Act specifically addresses the barriers facing prisoner rape survivors who seek to access the courts. Congress should pass the Prison Abuse Remedies Act quickly and fully. Doing so will allow justice to take its course in the aftermath of rape and other forms of sexual abuse in detention.

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