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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Understanding the Limitations of the Consent Decree

Wading through the mire that is legalese isn't an easy task. I hope that I am able to shine some light on the framework that the courts must work within when dealing with correcting unconstitutional prison conditions. I'll try to not veer off the topic.

I always recommend reading the laws and cases for yourself. The restrictions I speak of now can be found in United States Code Annotated, Title 18- Crimes and Criminal Procedure, Part II- Criminal Procedure, Chapter 229- Postsentence Administration, Subchapter C- Imprisonment, 18 U.S.C.A. §3626, which has been effective since November 26, 1997.

§3626 is no joke, and it begins setting limits with its first lines:

Appropriate remedies with respect to prison conditions
  (a) Requirements for Relief.--
      (1) Prospective relief.--
          (A) Prospective relief in any civil action with respect to prison
          conditions shall extend no further than necessary to correct the
          violation of the Federal right of particular plaintiff or plaintiffs.
          The court shall not grant or approve any prospective relief unless
          the court finds that such relief is narrowly drawn, extends no
          further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal
          right, and is the least intrusive means necessary to correct the
          violation of the Federal right. The court shall give substantial
          weight to any adverse impact on public safety or the operation
          of a criminal justice system caused by the relief.

The courts are being told to grant the least amount of relief possible; just enough to correct the problem. And if the possible changes might be too costly or might effect public safety (as with releasing prisoners due to overcrowding), it's possible the courts won't grant relief at all.

A rash of prisoner lawsuits, many of which were frivolous, precede the laws and decisions that severely limited suits brought by prisoners. The Prison Litigation Reform Act set the stage and was followed by 18 U.S.C.A. §3626. Since then, more and more hurdles have been set up to obstruct prisoner litigation.

As I mentioned in the post titled, MDOC To Be Released From Presley v. Epps Agreement, one of the things that is limited is how long court ordered or enforced relief can last. The relevant subsection of §3626 reads:

(b) Termination of Relief.--
    (1) Termination of prospective relief.--
In any civil action with respect to prison conditions in which
        prospective relief is ordered, such relief shall be terminable upon
        to motion of any party or intervener--
            (i) 2 years after the date the court granted or approved the
            prospective relief;
            (ii) 1 year after the date the court has entered an order denying
            termination of prospective relief under this paragraph; or
            (iii) in the case of an order issued on or before the date of
            enactment of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 2 years after
            such date of enactment.

This is why, two years after the final modification of the consent decree, it had to be dismissed without prejudice. And now that Unit 32 has been closed down, the conditions there are a moot point. It was agreed upon between the plaintiffs and defendants in the Presley v. Epps suit that the standards for the Presley class would follow the class members wherever they were moved in the process of closing Unit 32.

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About Steven

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Steven Farris is a prisoner who has been incarcerated since a month after his 16th birthday in 1998. Currently serving a life sentence without the possibility for parole, he is seeking to educate the public about the true nature of prison and the widespread and negative effects of the prison industrial complex. Steven has worked with both the National Prison Project of the ACLU, as well as the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in furthering this effort.

You can contact him directly at:
Steven Farris #R5580
P.O. Box 1889
Woodville, MS 39669-1889

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