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Broken Gate? A Study of the PLRA Exhaustion Requirement Past, Present, and Future
Unformatted Document Text:  Broken Gate? gate-keeping function meant to reduce the number of section 1983 inmate civil rights cases in the federal district courts (Prison Litigation Reform Act, 1996). First and foremost, the PLRA requires that an inmate exhaust administrative remedies at his or her institutional level prior to proceeding to federal court (Prison Litigation Reform Act, 1996, §(a)). This provision, known as the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement, is the predominant feature of the Act and is the subject of the instant paper. Second, the PLRA permits the Court to sua sponte (i.e., without being asked to do so by a party) dismiss prisoner litigation when it is facially “frivolous, malicious” or “fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted” (Prison Litigation Reform Act, 1996, §(c)). Part and parcel to what is known as the “three strikes provision,” inmates whose suits are dismissed on the basis of section (c) on three occasions (including at appeals) may be prohibited from proceeding with future suits without first paying the full federal filing fee (Prison Litigation Reform Act, 1996, §(g)). Finally, the PLRA requires that inmates establish that they suffered “physical injury,” before recovery for emotional or mental injury is permitted in federal court (Prison Litigation Reform Act, 1996, §(e)). In the broadest sense, the impact of the PLRA has been undeniable – it has dramatically reduced the number of prisoner civil rights lawsuits in the federal court system (Anonymous, 2004). In the year 2000, just four (4) years after the PLRA’s passage, the total number of section 1983 lawsuits brought by inmates in federal court had dropped over 40% (Ostrom, et al., 2003, p. 1526). By 2005, nearly a decade after enactment of the PLRA, the number of new inmate civil rights filings had fallen even more dramatically, from nearly 40,000 in 1996 to just 14,993 in 2005 (Robertson, 2007, p. 184). The number of cases surviving beyond initial filing has also been significantly 10

Authors: Passarelli, Mariah.
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Broken Gate?
gate-keeping function meant to reduce the number of section 1983 inmate civil rights 
cases in the federal district courts (Prison Litigation Reform Act, 1996).  First and 
foremost, the PLRA requires that an inmate exhaust administrative remedies at his or her 
institutional level prior to proceeding to federal court (Prison Litigation Reform Act, 
1996, §(a)).  This provision, known as the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement, is the 
predominant feature of the Act and is the subject of the instant paper.  Second, the PLRA 
permits the Court to sua sponte (i.e., without being asked to do so by a party) dismiss 
prisoner litigation when it is facially “frivolous, malicious” or “fails to state a claim upon 
which relief can be granted” (Prison Litigation Reform Act, 1996, §(c)).  Part and parcel 
to what is known as the “three strikes provision,” inmates whose suits are dismissed on 
the basis of section (c) on three occasions (including at appeals) may be prohibited from 
proceeding with future suits without first paying the full federal filing fee (Prison 
Litigation Reform Act, 1996, §(g)).  Finally, the PLRA requires that inmates establish 
that they suffered “physical injury,” before recovery for emotional or mental injury is 
permitted in federal court (Prison Litigation Reform Act, 1996, §(e)).
In the broadest sense, the impact of the PLRA has been undeniable – it has 
dramatically reduced the number of prisoner civil rights lawsuits in the federal court 
system (Anonymous, 2004).  In the year 2000, just four (4) years after the PLRA’s 
passage, the total number of section 1983 lawsuits brought by inmates in federal court 
had dropped over 40% (Ostrom, et al., 2003, p. 1526).  By 2005, nearly a decade after 
enactment of the PLRA, the number of new inmate civil rights filings had fallen even 
more dramatically, from nearly 40,000 in 1996 to just 14,993 in 2005 (Robertson, 2007, 
p. 184).  The number of cases surviving beyond initial filing has also been significantly 
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