AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Corrections Law for Jails, Prisons and Detention Facilities
Back to list of subjects Back to Legal Publications Menu
Prison Litigation Reform Act: Consent Decrees
Prisons in California
have operated under a receivership since 2006 to comply with consent decrees
concerning prison health care. The trial court ordered the state to disclose
its expert witnesses and their reports 120 days before moving to terminate
the decrees under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. The state appealed
the order, and the appeal was denied. The trial court's order was a sensible
scheduling order designed to allow the plaintiffs and the court adequate
notice of the evidence the state would rely on in support of its motion.
Plata v. Brown, #13-15466, 2014 U.S. App.
Lexis 9801 (9th Cir.).
The federal government entered into a consent decree with the Virgin Islands in 1986 to attempt to improve conditions at the Golden Grove Correctional Facility, including unreasonable fire safety risks, physical violence by staff members and prisoners, inadequate sanitation, and medical care. The trial court later entered a number of additional orders when conditions at the facility failed to improve as planned. Three years ago, in 2011, the Virgin Islands asked the court to terminate prospective relief orders under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. The trial court found that the prospective relief orders entered did not contain the specific findings required by the Act. A hearing was ordered to decide whether “prospective relief remains necessary to correct a current and ongoing violation of a federal right at Golden Grove … and, if so, to ensure that the prospective relief is narrowly tailored to that violation in the manner required by the PLRA." A federal appeals court upheld a ruling denying a prisoner at the facility a request to intervene in the case, finding that the federal government adequately represented the prisoner's interest in the case. United States v. Territory of VI, #12-4305, 2014 U.S. App. Lexis 6683 (3rd Cir.).
A federal judge stated that a proposed wide-ranging consent decree was "the only way to overcome the years of stagnation that permitted [the prison] to remain an indelible stain on the community, and it will ensure that OPP inmates are treated in a manner that does not offend contemporary notions of human decency." The approved decree aims at remedying problems that led to years of rapes, suicides, violence, and other consequences of poor conditions at the Orleans Parish Prison in Louisiana. The decision notes that prisoners testified to being assaulted by fellow inmates, sometimes in the plain view of officers, and that there was evidence that some prisoners with mental health problems had been living in cells filled with feces. The decree mandates increased staffing and training, among other things, and continuing oversight of the facility's operations. The judge found that the decree was narrowly tailored to remedy unconstitutional conditions. Jones v. Gusman, #12-859 2013 U.S. Dist. Lexis 79684 (E.D. La.). Text of consent decree.
Federal appeals court rejects challenges to consent decree requiring improvements to Puerto Rican prison conditions, including claim that the court's order violated the requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Court declines to order termination of consent decree requiring privatization of inmate health care, pointing to continuing serious problems. Feliciano v. Rullan, No. 04-1300, 2004 U.S. App. Lexis 16258 (1st Cir.). [2004 JB Sep]
Far from showing that court ordered privatization of inmate medical care in Puerto Rico should be ended, correctional official's own evidence showed that consent decree relief was still necessary to remedy ongoing problems. Feliciano v. Serra, 300 F.Supp.2d 321 (D. Puerto Rico 2004). [2004 JB Jun]
283:99 U.S. Supreme Court upholds federal statute requiring an automatic stay of injunctive orders against correctional facilities when officials ask for termination or modification of such orders and the trial court fails to hold a hearing and make findings that there are currently existing violations within a designated time period. This time limit did not constitute a violation of separation of powers. Miller v. French, #99-224, 120 S. Ct. 2246 (2000).
287:167 Philadelphia federal judge approves settlement in city prison overcrowding case pending for 18 years; further court supervision of city prisons dropped; Prison Litigation Reform Act provisions allowing defendants to move for modification or termination of existing consent decrees, and requiring a finding of current unconstitutional conditions for any prospective relief are cited in judge's order. Harris v. City of Philadelphia, #82-1847, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12579 (E.D. Pa.).
268:53 Federal appeals court, joining six other circuits, upholds provision of Prison Litigation Reform Act allowing states and cities to be granted immediate termination of consent decrees in prisoner lawsuits. Imprisoned Citizens Union v. Ridge, #98-1536, 169 F.3d 178 (3rd Cir. 1999).
» Editor's Note: Six other federal Courts of Appeal have upheld this provision of the PLRA. Hadix v. Johnson, #96-2463, 133 F.3d 940 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 118 S. Ct. 2368 (1998); Dougan v. Singletary, #93-2008, 129 F.3d 1424 (11th Cir. 1997); Inmates of Suffolk Co. Jail v. Rouse, #97-1261, 129 F.3d 649 (1st Cir. 1997); Benjamin v. Jacobon, #96-7957, 124 F.3d 162 (2d Cir. 1997) ; Gavin v. Branstad, #96-3361, 122 F.3d 1081 (8th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 1998 U.S. LEXIS 4330, Plyler v. Moore, #96-6884, 100 F.3d 365 (4th Cir. 1996. Only one three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled to the contrary, and the Ninth Circuit has granted a rehearing en banc in the case. Taylor v. United States, #97- 16069 & 97-16071, 143 F.3d 1178 (9th Cir. 1998), opinion withdrawn, rehearing en banc granted, 158 F.3d 1059 (9th Cir. 1998).
270:87 State of Alabama found to have avoided any good faith attempt to comply with federal overcrowding lawsuit consent decree; while consent decree was properly dissolved at this point pursuant to provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, attorneys' for plaintiff inmates and for county were entitled to attorneys' fees for attempting enforcement of decree while it was in effect. Chairs v. Burgess, 25 F.Supp.2d 1333 (N.D. Ala. 1998).
260:123 Federal appeals court finds unconstitutional, on separation of powers grounds, provision of Prison Litigation Reform Act calling for immediate termination of consent decrees entered without factual or legal findings that relief granted is "narrowly drawn," goes no further than necessary to correct a violation of a federal right, and uses the "least intrusive means necessary"; 9th Circuit appeals court stands alone in rejecting constitutionality of this provision. Taylor v. U.S., 1998 U.S. App. Lexis 8550 (9th Cir. 1998). » Editor's Note: All other federal appeals courts to date which have addressed this issue have reached the opposite conclusion from the one announced by the Ninth Circuit in the case reported on above. See Hadix v. Johnson, 133 F.3d 940 (6th Cir. 1998) (Sec. 3626(b)(2) does not violate separation of power principles); Dougan v. Singletary, 129 F.3d 1424 (11th Cir. 1997) (same); Inmates of Suffolk Co. Jail v. Rouse, 129 F.3d 649 (1st Cir. 1997) (same); Gavin v. Branstad, 122 F.3d 1081 (8th Cir. 1997) (same); Plyler v. Moore, 100 F.3d 365 (4th Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 117 S.Ct. 2460 (1997) (same); and Benjamin v. Jacobson, 124 F.3d 162 (2d Cir. 1997) (Section 3626(b)(2) is constitutional but does not terminate consent decree; only jurisdiction of federal court terminated).
238:147 Federal Prison Litigation Reform Act becomes law, makes numerous changes in prison litigation, including scope of injunctive orders, standards for termination of injunctive orders, amount of attorneys' fees, standard for prisoner release orders in overcrowding cases, prisoner payment of filing fees and court costs, barring inmates who repetitively file frivolous suits from further filings, no awards for mental/emotional distress in the absence of physical injury, and revocation of federal prisoner's good time credits if they file malicious lawsuits or testify falsely, among other highlights.
Back to list of subjects Back
to Legal Publications Menu