Access to the Courts and Counsel
Access to justice is an essential right for all victims of abuse, especially those who have been abused while incarcerated. The ACLU regularly receives reports of prisoners who have been subjected to physical and/or sexual assault, denied necessary medical care, or subjected to other cruel and inhumane conditions of confinement.
In 1996, Congress passed the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), severely curtailing the rights of prisoners to seek redress for abuses committed against them. Since its enactment, the PLRA has had a disastrous effect on the ability of prisoners to seek relief for violations of their rights. The PLRA creates numerous burdens and restrictions on lawsuits brought by prisoners in federal court. As a result of these restrictions, prisoners seeking either a remedy for injuries inflicted by prison staff and others or the protection of the courts from dangerous or unhealthy conditions of confinement have had their cases dismissed. The restrictions of the PLRA apply only to prisoners; the United States is the only country in the world that has a law specifically targeting prisoners’ access to the courts.
The ACLU’s National Prison Project works to assist prisoners seeking relief from abuse by fighting to limit new policies further restricting prisoners’ access to the courts and counsel, assisting prisoners in understanding the processes by which they must pursue relief for any harms they have suffered, and representing classes of prisoners seeking relief from abuse.