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Broken Gate? A Study of the PLRA Exhaustion Requirement Past, Present, and Future
Unformatted Document Text:  Broken Gate? Finally, although the PLRA only applies to inmate litigation in federal courts, most states have enacted nearly identical provisions (Brill, 2008). These analogous state law statutes act - just as the PLRA does - to both screen supposedly frivolous prisoner litigation and to curtail the discretion of state court judges to address prison conditions (Brill, 2008). For instance, in Pennsylvania, the PLRA has been, essentially, completely adopted by the state legislature and made applicable to all civil rights proceedings brought by incarcerated persons in state court (Prisoner Litigation, 1998). As a result the concerns detailed below regarding the effectiveness of the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement in the context of federal court proceedings would necessarily also apply to inmate civil rights cases in Pennsylvania state courts (Prisoner Litigation, 1998). This type of cooption makes it easy to see why, for better or worse, inmate litigation is almost entirely dependant upon interpretation and application of the PLRA. Legislative History Prior to 1960, prisoner litigation was governed by historical judge-made law known as ‘common law’ (Chen, 2004). Under this common law, prisoners did not have the right to bring a lawsuit regarding the conditions of their confinement in jail or prison, nor regarding events alleged to have occurred there (Chen, 2004). Indeed, prisoners were considered “civilly dead,” having relinquished all of their constitutional rights when they were criminally convicted and sentenced (Fradella, 1998, pp. 466-467). However, the rights of prisoners to both live in humane conditions while incarcerated, as well as to initiate litigation regarding their confinement, became recognized during the progressive domination of Chief Justice Earl Warren’s Supreme Court (Chen, 2004). Virtually creators of the American civil rights movement - that had called for the assertion of 6

Authors: Passarelli, Mariah.
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Broken Gate?
Finally, although the PLRA only applies to inmate litigation in federal courts, 
most states have enacted nearly identical provisions (Brill, 2008).  These analogous state 
law statutes act - just as the PLRA does - to both screen supposedly frivolous prisoner 
litigation and to curtail the discretion of state court judges to address prison conditions 
(Brill, 2008).  For instance, in Pennsylvania, the PLRA has been, essentially, completely 
adopted by the state legislature and made applicable to all civil rights proceedings 
brought by incarcerated persons in state court (Prisoner Litigation, 1998).  As a result the 
concerns detailed below regarding the effectiveness of the PLRA’s exhaustion 
requirement in the context of federal court proceedings would necessarily also apply to 
inmate civil rights cases in Pennsylvania state courts (Prisoner Litigation, 1998).  This 
type of cooption makes it easy to see why, for better or worse, inmate litigation is almost 
entirely dependant upon interpretation and application of the PLRA.
Legislative History
Prior to 1960, prisoner litigation was governed by historical judge-made law 
known as ‘common law’ (Chen, 2004). Under this common law, prisoners did not have 
the right to bring a lawsuit regarding the conditions of their confinement in jail or prison, 
nor regarding events alleged to have occurred there (Chen, 2004).  Indeed, prisoners were 
considered “civilly dead,” having relinquished all of their constitutional rights when they 
were criminally convicted and sentenced (Fradella, 1998, pp. 466-467).  However, the 
rights of prisoners to both live in humane conditions while incarcerated, as well as to 
initiate litigation regarding their confinement, became recognized during the progressive 
domination of Chief Justice Earl Warren’s Supreme Court (Chen, 2004).  Virtually 
creators of the American civil rights movement - that had called for the assertion of 
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