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
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.