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Broken Gate? A Study of the PLRA Exhaustion Requirement Past, Present, and Future
Unformatted Document Text:  Broken Gate? the institution where they are incarcerated (Belbot, 2004). This type of provision – i.e., requiring that a potential litigant first avail themselves of an available administrative remedy prior to resorting to the courts – is common in other areas of law (Belbot, 2004). The exhaustion requirement of the PLRA is set forth in §1997e(a) and reads: No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or of any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted. (Prison Litigation Reform Act, 1996, §(a)). This language defining the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement represented a departure from the exhaustion requirement set forth in CRIPA in several ways (Belbot, 2004). First, in drafting the PLRA’s exhaustion provision, Congress eliminated previous language that required exhaustion only in situations where the available administrative remedy was considered “plain, speedy, and effective (Belbot, 2004, p. 294). Second, the PLRA language made clear that exhaustion was, not only mandatory in all cases, but must be fully accomplished prior to the initiation of an inmate’s federal suit (Belbot, 2004). To this end, the PLRA required dismissal of federal civil actions in which the inmate had failed to exhaust administrative remedies prior to resorting to federal court (Belbot, 2004). Although seemingly explicit, the language of this exhaustion requirement quickly spurred several legal arguments (Belbot, 2004). First, a debate ensued regarding the meaning of the phrase “administrative remedies as are available” (Belbot, 2004). This debate was, by in large, informed by the Supreme Court’s previous decision in the case McCarthy v. Madigan (McCarthy v. Madigan, 1992). In McCarthy, the prisoner- 12

Authors: Passarelli, Mariah.
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Broken Gate?
the institution where they are incarcerated (Belbot, 2004).  This type of provision – i.e., 
requiring that a potential litigant first avail themselves of an available administrative 
remedy prior to resorting to the courts – is common in other areas of law (Belbot, 2004).  
The exhaustion requirement of the PLRA is set forth in §1997e(a) and reads:
No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions 
under section 1983 of this title, or of any other Federal law, 
by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other 
correctional facility until such administrative remedies as 
are available are exhausted.
(Prison Litigation Reform Act, 1996, §(a)).
This language defining the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement represented a 
departure from the exhaustion requirement set forth in CRIPA in several ways (Belbot, 
2004).  First, in drafting the PLRA’s exhaustion provision, Congress eliminated previous 
language that required exhaustion only in situations where the available administrative 
remedy was considered “plain, speedy, and effective (Belbot, 2004, p. 294).  Second, the 
PLRA language made clear that exhaustion was, not only mandatory in all cases, but 
must be fully accomplished prior to the initiation of an inmate’s federal suit (Belbot, 
2004).  To this end, the PLRA required dismissal of federal civil actions in which the 
inmate had failed to exhaust administrative remedies prior to resorting to federal court 
(Belbot, 2004).  
Although seemingly explicit, the language of this exhaustion requirement quickly 
spurred several legal arguments (Belbot, 2004).  First, a debate ensued regarding the 
meaning of the phrase “administrative remedies as are available” (Belbot, 2004).  This 
debate was, by in large, informed by the Supreme Court’s previous decision in the case 
McCarthy v. Madigan (McCarthy v. Madigan, 1992).  In McCarthy, the prisoner-

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