continuing their illegal behavior another way. Judges Sparks, 733 F. Supp. 227 (W.D. Pa. HopeforHealingweb.pdf, or by writing to Just.
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NOTE FROM THE EDITORS This Handbook is a resource for prisoners who wish to file a federal lawsuit addressing poor conditions in prison or abuse by prison staff. It also contains limited ge neral information about the American legal system. This Handbook is available for free to anyone: prisoners, families, friends, activists, lawyers and others. We hope that you find this Handbook helpful, and that it provides some aid in protecting your rights behind bars. Know that those of us who do this work from outside prison are humbled by the amazing work so many of you do to protect your rights and dignity while inside. As you work your way through a legal system that is often frustrating and unfair, know that you are not alone in your struggle for justice. Good luck! Rachel Meeropol Ian Head The Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook, 5 th Edition. Revised in 2010. Published by: The Center for Constitutional Rights 666 Broadway, 7th Floor New York, NY 10012 The National Lawyers Guild, National Office 132 Nassau Street, Room 922 New York, NY 10038 Available on the internet at: http://jailhouselaw.org We would like to thank: All of the Jailhouse Lawyers who wrote in with comments, recommendations and corrections for the Handbook, all those who have requested and used the Ha ndbook, and who have passed th eir copy on to others inside prison walls. Special thanks to NLG Jailhouse Lawyer Vice President Mumia Abu-Jamal . The Sylvia Rivera Law Project for co-writing ﬁIssues of Importance to Transgender Prisonersﬂ in Chapter Two, and The ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project for helpful insights regarding ﬁIssues of Importance for Women Prisoners.ﬂ The original writers and editors of the Handbook (formerly the NLG Jailhouse Lawyers Manual ), Brian Glick, the Prison Law Collective, the Jailhouse Manual Collective and Angus Love . And special thanks to Alissa Hull and John Boston for significant work on the 2010 edition. The dozens of volunteers who have come to the NLG offices every week since 2006 to mail Handbooks to prisoners, and to Claire Dailey, Merry Neisner and all the CCR staff, interns and volunteers who put in hours and hours of research, proofreading, cite-checking, and mailing. Jeff Fogel and Steven Rosenfeld for their work defending the Handbook in Virginia. LEGAL DISCLAIMER: This Handbook was written by CCR staff. The information included in the Handbook is not intended as legal advice or representation, and you should not rely upon it as such. We cannot guarantee the accuracy of this information nor can we guarantee t hat all the law and rules inside are current, as the law changes frequently.
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Table of Contents CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION1 A. WHAT IS THIS HANDBOOK?1 B. HOW TO USE THIS HANDBOOK1 C. WHO CAN USE THIS HANDBOOK2 1. Prisoners in Every State Can Use this Handbook 2 2. Prisoners in Federal Prison Can Use this Handbook 2 3. Prisoners in City or County Jails Can Use this Handbook. 3 4. Prisoners in Private Prison s Can Use this Handbook.. 3 D. WHY TO TRY AND GET A LAWYER..4 E. A SHORT HISTORY OF SECTION 1983 AND THE STRUGGLE FOR PRISONERS™ RIGHTS..5 F. THE USES AND LIMITS OF LEGAL ACTION.6 CHAPTER TWO: YOUR LEGAL OPTIONS7 A. SECTION 1983 LAWSUITS..7 1. Violations of Your Federal Rights 7 2. ﬁUnder Color of State Lawﬂ.. 8 B. STATE COURT CASES9 C. FEDERAL TORTS CLAIMS ACT (FTCA)9 1. Who You Can Sue.. 10 2. Types of Torts.. 11 a. NEGLIGENCE .11 b. INTENTIONAL TORTS.11 c. FALSE IMPRISONMENT ..11 d. INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS .12 3. Administrative Exhaustion 12 4. Damages in FTCA Suits. 12 5. The Discretionary Function Exception.. 12 D. BIVENS ACTIONS AND FEDERAL INJUNCTIONS.13 1. Who is Acting Under Color of Federal Law?. 13 2. Unconstitutional Acts by Federal Officials.. 14 3. Federal Injunctions.. 14 E. PROTECTION OF PRISONERS UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW..14 F. BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE PRISON LITIGATION REFORM ACT (PLRA)..15 1. Injunctive Relief.. 15 2. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies. 15 3. Mental Emotional Injury 16 4. Attorneys™ Fees 16 5. Screening, Dismissal and Waiver of Reply16 6. Filing Fees and the Three Strikes Provision 16 CHAPTER THREE: YOUR RIGHTS IN PRISON..17 A. YOUR FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND ASSOCIATION, AND THE TURNER TEST17 1. Access to Reading Materials 18 2. Free Expressions of Political Beliefs.. 20 3. Limits on Censorship of Mail.. 21 a. OUTGOING MAIL .21 b. INCOMING MAIL..21 c. LEGAL MAIL ..22 4. Access to the Telephone. 22
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5. Your Right to Receive Visits from Family and Friends and to Maintain Relationships in Prison.. 23 a. ACCESS TO VISITS ..23 b. VISITATION FOR LESBIAN , GAY, BISEXUAL AND TRANSGENDER PRISONERS.24 c. RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER PRISONERS25 d. CARING FOR YOUR CHILD IN PRISON25 B. YOUR RIGHT TO PRACTICE YOUR RELIGION26 1. Free Exercise Clause 26 2. Establishment Clause.. 27 3. Fourteenth Amendment Protection of Religion.. 27 4. Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). 28 5. Cases and Issues. 28 C. YOUR RIGHT TO BE FREE FROM DISCRIMINATION.29 1. Freedom from Racial Discrimination. 30 2. Freedom from Gender Discrimination 31 a. THE ﬁSIMILARLY SITUATED ﬂ ARGUMENT .32 b. THE EQUAL PROTECTION TEST FOR GENDER DISCRIMINATION .32 3. Freedom from Other Forms of Discrimination.. 33 D. YOUR PROCEDURAL DUE PROCESS RIGHTS REGARDING PUNISHMENT ..33 1. Two Important Supreme Court Cases Govern Due Process Rights for Prisoners 33 2. Transfers and Segregation 34 E. YOUR RIGHT TO BE FREE FROM UNREASONABLE SEARCHES AND SEIZURES.35 F. YOUR RIGHT TO BE FREE FROM CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT..36 1. Protection from Physical Brutality 36 2. Rape, Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment 37 a. OUTRAGEOUS CONDUCT VS . UNCONSTITUTIONAL CONDUCT ..38 b. PSYCHOLOGICAL HARM..38 c. CONSENSUAL SEX BETWEEN PRISONERS AND GUARDS..39 d. CHALLENGING PRISON SUPERVISORS AND PRISON POLICIES .39 3. Your Right to Decent Conditions in Prison.. 39 4. Your Right to Medical Care. 41 a. SERIOUS MEDICAL NEED .42 b. DELIBERATE INDIFFERENCE ..42 c. CAUSATION 43 G. YOUR RIGHT TO USE THE COURTS.43 1. The Right to File Papers and Meet with Lawyers and Legal Workers 44 2. Access to a Law Library. 45 3. Getting Help from a Jailhouse Lawyer and Providing Help to Other Prisoners.. 45 4. Dealing with Retaliation 46 H. ISSUES OF IMPORTANCE TO WOMEN PRISONERS.47 1. Medical Care 47 a. PROPER CARE FOR WOMEN PRISONERS 48 b. MEDICAL NEEDS OF PREGNANT WOMEN48 2. Your Right to an Abortion in Prison 49 a. FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT CLAIM 49 b. EIGHT AMENDMENT CLAIM 50 3. Observations and Searches by Male Guards.. 51
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I. ISSUES OF IMPORTANCE TO TRANSGENDER PRISONERS..52 1. Classification 52 a. PLACEMENT IN MALE OR FEMALE FACILITIES ..52 b. INVOLUNTARY SEGREGATION ..53 c. ACCESS TO PROTECTIVE CUSTODY .54 2. Health.. 55 a. ACCESS TO GENDER -AFFIRMING HEALTH CARE.55 b. CONFIDENTIALITY ..57 3. Free Gender Expression. 57 a. CLOTHING AND GROOMING 57 b. NAME AND ID GENDER CHANGES ..59 c. ACCESS TO READING MATERIAL .60 d. JOB/PROGRAM DISCRIMINATION.60 4. Dealing with Violence and Abuse. 61 a. VERBAL HARASSMENT .61 b. RAPE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT 61 c. STRIP SEARCHES ..62 J. ISSUES OF IMPORTANCE TO PRETRIAL DETAINEES62 K. ISSUES OF IMPORTANCE TO NON-CITIZENS AND IMMIGRATION DETAINEES..64 CHAPTER FOUR: STRUCTURING YOUR LAWSUIT.67 A. WHAT TO ASK FOR IN YOUR LAWSUIT..67 B. INJUNCTIONS68 1. Preliminary Injunctions and Permanent Injunctions.. 68 2. Exhaustion and Injunctions.. 69 3. Temporary Restraining Orders.. 69 C. MONEY DAMAGES69 1. The Three Types of Money Damages.. 69 2. Damages Under the PLRA 70 3. Deciding How Much Money to Ask For. 71 D. WHO YOU CAN SUE.71 1. Who to Sue for an Injunction 72 2. Who to Sue for Money Damages: the Problem of ﬁQualified Immunityﬂ 73 3. What Happens to Your Money Damages74 E. SETTLEMENTS.74 F. CLASS ACTIONS..74 CHAPTER FIVE: HOW TO START YOUR LAWSUIT.76 A. WHEN TO FILE YOUR LAWSUIT76 1. Statute of Limitations 77 2. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies. 77 B. WHERE TO FILE YOUR LAWSUIT.78 C. HOW TO START YOUR LAWSUIT..78 1. Summons and Complaint 79 a. COMPLAINT 79 b. SUMMONS 84 2. In Forma Pauperis Papers 84 3. Request for Appointment of Counsel 87 4. Declarations. 88 D. HOW TO SERVE YOUR LEGAL PAPERS89 E. GETTING IMMEDIATE HELP FROM THE COURT..90 F. SIGNING YOUR PAPERS91
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CHAPTER 6: WHAT HAPPENS AFTER YOU FILE SUIT.92 A. SHORT SUMMARY OF A LAWSUIT..92 B. DISMISSAL BY THE COURT AND WAIVER OF REPLY.93 C. HOW TO RESPOND TO A MOTION TO DISMISS YOUR COMPLAINT.94 D. THE PROBLEM OF MOOTNESS95 E. DISCOVERY.96 1. Discovery Tools.. 97 2. What You Can See and Ask About. 99 3. Privilege.. 99 4. Some Basic Steps .. 99 5. Some Practical Considerations. 100 6. Procedure.100 7. Their Discovery of Your Information and Material 101 F. SUMMARY JUDGMENT..101 1. The Legal Standard. 101 2. Summary Judgment Procedure. 103 3. Summary Judgment in Your Favor. 103 G. WHAT TO DO IF YOUR COMPLAINT IS DISMISSED OR THE COURT GRANTS DEFENDANTS SUMMARY JUDGMENT..103 1. Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment.. 104 2. How to Appeal the Decision of the District Court.. 104 CHAPTER 7: THE LEGAL SYSTEM AND LEGAL RESEARCH105 A. THE IMPORTANCE OF PRECEDENT..105 1. The Federal Court System.. 105 2. How Judges Interpret Laws on the Basis of Precedent 105 3. Statutes.. 107 4. Other Grounds for Court Decisions.. 107 B. LEGAL CITATIONS Œ HOW TO FIND COURT DECISIONS AND OTHER LEGAL MATERIAL.107 1. Court Decisions 107 2. Legislation and Court Rules.. 110 3. Books and Articles.. 110 4. Research Aids 111 C. LEGAL WRITING..111 APPENDICES Appendix A: Glossary of Terms 113 Appendix B: Sample Complaint 119 Appendix C: FTCA Form. 123 Appendix D: More Legal Forms and Information 125 Appendix E: Constitutional Amendments. 126 Appendix F: Excerpts from the PLRA 128 Appendix G: Universal Declaration of Human Rights.. 131 Appendix H: Sources of Legal Support. 134 Appendix I: Sources of Publicity.. 135 Appendix J: Prisoners™ Rights Books and Newsletters.. 136 Appendix K: Free Book Programs.. 137 Appendix L: District Court Addresses .138
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JAILHOUSE LAWYER™S HA NDBOOK Œ CHAPTER ONE 2ﬁmotion for summary judgmentﬂ against you. It also tells you what to do if prison officials win these motions. It explains how to use ﬁpre-trial discoveryﬂ to get information and materials from prison officials. Chapter Seven gives some basic information about the U.S. legal system. It also explains how to find laws and court decisions in a law library and how to refer to them in legal papers. The Appendices are additional parts of the Handbook that provide extra information. The appendices to the Handbook provide materials for you to use when you prepare your suit and after you file it. Appendix A contains a glossary of legal terms. Appendix B a sample complaint in a prison case. Appendices C and D contain forms for basic legal papers. You will also find helpful forms and sample papers within Ch apters Four and Five. Appendix E gives the text of the first Fifteen Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Appendix F has a few of the important sections of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, and Appendix G includes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Appendices H and I list possible sources of support and publicity Œ legal groups, political and civic groups that help prisoners, progressive magazines and newspapers that cover prison issues, and other outlets you can write to. Appendix J lists other legal materials you can read to keep up to date and learn details which are not included in this manual. Appendix K lists free book programs for prisoners, and Appendix L includes a list of addresses of Federal District Courts for your reference. We strongly recommend that you read the whole handbook before you start trying to file your case. SECTION C Who Can Use This Handbook Most of the prisoners in the Country are in State prison, but prisoners in other sorts of prisons or detention centers can use this book too. 1. Prisoners in Every State Can Use This Handbook Section 1983 provides a way for State Prisoners to assert their rights under the United States Constitution. Every State Prisoner in the country, no matter what state he or she is in, has the same rights. However, different courts interpret these rights differently. For example, a federal court in New York may come to one conclusion about an issue, while a federal court in Tennessee may reach a totally different conclusion about the same issue. First Steps: 1. Know Your Rights! Ask yourself: have my federal rights been violated? If you have experienced one of the following , the answer may be yes: Guard or prisoner brutality or harassment Unsafe cell or prison conditions Censorship, or extremely limited mail, phone, or visit privileges Inadequate medical care Interference with practicing your religion Inadequate food Racial, sexual or ethnic discrimination Placement in the hole without a hearing 2. Exhaust the Prison Grievance System! Use all the steps in the prison complaint or grievance system and write up your concerns in detail. Appeal it all the way and save your paperwork. You MUST do this before filing a suit. 3. Try to Get Help ! Consider trying to hire a lawyer or talking to a jailhouse lawyer, and be sure to request a pro se Section 1983 packet from your prison law library or the district court. States also have their own laws, and their own constitutions. State courts, rather than federal courts, have the last word on what the state constitution means. This means that in some cases, you might have more success in state court than in federal court. You can read more about this possibility in the next chapter. Unfortunately, we don™t have the time or the space to tell you about the differences in the law from state to state. So while using this Handbook, you should also try to check state law using the resources listed in Appendix J. You can also check the books available in your prison and contact the nearest office of the National Lawyers Guild or any other lawyers, law students or political groups you know of that support prisoners™ struggles. 2. Prisoners in Federal Prison Can Use This Handbook If you are in federal prison, this Handbook will also be helpful. Federal prisoners have basically the same federal rights as state prisoners. Where things are different for people in federal prison, we have tried to make a note of it for you.
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JAILHOUSE LAWYER™S HA NDBOOK Œ CHAPTER ONE 3 The major difference is that federal prisoners cannot use Section 1983 to sue about bad conditions and mistreatment in federal prison. Instead, you have a couple options. You can use a case called Bivens v. Six Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics , 403 U.S. 388 (1971). In Bivens, the Supreme Court said that you can sue in federal court whenever a federal official violates your rights under the U.S. Constitution. This is called a ﬁBivens action.ﬂ Federal prisoners can also use a federal law called the ﬁFederal Tort Claims Actﬂ (FTCA) to sue the United States directly for your mistreatment. Both Bivens and FTCA suits are explained in more detail in Chapter Two. The bottom line is that federal and state prisoners have mostly the same rights, but they will need to use slightly different procedures when filing a case. 3. Prisoners in City or County Jails can use this Handbook People serving sentences in jail have the same rights under Section 1983 and the U.S. Constitution as people in prison. Usually, these are city jails but can be any kind of jail run by a municipality. A ﬁmunicipalityﬂ is a city, town, county or other kind of local government. People in jail waiting for trial are called ﬁpretrial detainees,ﬂ and sometimes have more protection under the Constitution than convicted prisoners. Chapter Three, Section J discusses some of the ways in which pretrial detainees are treated differently than convicted prisoners. However, you can still use most of the cases and procedures in this Handbook to bring your Section 1983 claim. Where things are different for people in jails, we have tried to make note of it for you. 4. Prisoners in Private Prisons Can Use This Handbook As you know, most prisons are run by the state or the federal government, which means that the guards who work there are state or federal employees. A private prison, on the other hand, is operated by a for-profit corporation, which employs private individuals as guards. If you are one of the hundreds of thousands of prisoners currently incarcerated in a private prison, most of the information in this Handbook also applies to you. The ability of state prisoners in private prisons to sue under Section 1983 is discussed in Chapter Two, Section A. In some cases it is actually easier to sue private prison guards, because they cannot claim ﬁqualified immunity.ﬂ You will learn about ﬁqualified immunityﬂ in Chapter 4, Section D. How Do I Use This Handbook? This is the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook. Sometimes it will be referred to as the ﬁJLHﬂ or the ﬁHandbook.ﬂ It is divided into seven Chapters, which are also divided into different Sections. Each Section has a letter, like ﬁAﬂ or ﬁB.ﬂ Some Sections are divided into Parts, which each have a number, like ﬁ1ﬂ or ﬁ2.ﬂ Sometimes we will tell you to look at a Chapter and a Section to find more information. This might sound confusing at first but when you are looking for specific things, it will make using this Handbook much easier. We have tried to make this Handbook as easy to read as possible. But there may be words that you find confusing. At the end of the Handbook, in Appendix A, we have listed many of these words and their meanings in the Glossary . If you are having trouble understanding any parts of this Handbook, you may want to seek out the Jailhouse Lawyers in your prison. Jailhouse Lawyers are prisoners who have educated themselves on the legal system, and one of them may be able to help you with your suit. In many places in this Handbook, we refer to a past legal suit to prove a specific point. It will appear in italics, and with numbers after it, like this: Smith v. City of New York, 311 U.S. 288 (1994) This is called a ﬁcitation.ﬂ It means that a court decided the case of Smith v. City of New York in a way that is helpful or relevant to a point we are trying to make. Look at the places where we use citations as examples to help with your own legal research and writing. Chapter Seven explains how to find and use cases. Federal prisoners serving sentences in private prisons can use the Bivens action described in Chapter Two, Section D, with some limitations. In Correctional Services Corporation v. Malesko , 534 U.S. 61 (2001), a federal prisoner who had a heart attack at a halfway house sued after a private guard made him climb up five flights of stairs. The Supreme Court held that he could not sue the halfway house itself using the Bivens doctrine. However, someone in this situation may be able to sue the private prison employees directly. Another choice for a prisoner in this situation is to file a claim in state court.
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JAILHOUSE LAWYER™S HA NDBOOK Œ CHAPTER ONE 4SECTION D Why To Try And Get A Lawyer Unfortunately, not that many lawyers represent prisoners, so you may have trouble finding one. You have a right to sue without a lawyer. This is called suing ﬁpro se,ﬂ which means ﬁfor himself or herself.ﬂ Filing a lawsuit pro se is very difficult. Thousands of lawsuits are filed by prisoners every year, and most of these suits are lost before they even go to trial. We do not want to discourage you from turning to the court system, but encourage you to do everything you can to try to get a lawyer to help you, before you decide to file pro se. Why So Much Latin? “Pro Se” is one of several Latin phrases you will see in this Handbook. The use of Latin in the law is unfortunate, because it makes it hard for people who aren’t trained as lawyers to understand a lot of important legal procedure. We have avoided Latin phrases whenever possible. When we have included them, it is because you will see these phrases in the papers filed by lawyers for the other side, and you may want to use them yourself. Whenever we use Latin phrases we have put them in italics, like pro se. Check the glossary at Appendix A for any words, Latin or otherwise, that you don’t understand. A lawyer is also very helpful after your suit has been filed. He or she can interview witnesses and discuss the case with the judge in court, while you are confined in prison. A lawyer also has access to a better library and more familiarity with lega l forms and procedures. And despite all the legal research and time you spend on your case, many judges are more likely to take a lawyer seriously than someone filing pro se. If you feel, after reading Chapter Three, that you have a basis for a lawsuit, try to find a good lawyer to represent you. You can look in the phone book to find a lawyer, or to get the address for the ﬁbar associationﬂ in your state. A bar association is a group that many lawyers belong to. You can ask the bar association to give you the names of some lawyers who take prison cases. You probably will not be able to pay the several thousand dollars or more which you would need to hire a lawyer. But there are other ways you might be able to get a lawyer to take your case. If you have a good chance of winning a substantial amount of money (explained in Chapter Four, Section C), a lawyer might take your case on a ﬁcontingency feeﬂ basis. This means you agree to pay the lawyer a portion of your money damages if you win (usually one-third), but the lawyer gets nothing if you lose. This kind of arrangement is used in many suits involving car accidents and other personal injury cases outside of prison. In prison, it may be appropriate if you have been severely injured by guard brutality or an unsafe prison condition. If you don™t expect to win money from your suit, a lawyer who represents you in some types of cases can get paid by the government if you win your case. These fees are authorized by the United States Code, Title 42, Section 1988. However, the recent Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 (called the ﬁPLRAﬂ and discussed in Chapter Two, Section F) added new rules that restrict the court™s ability to award fees to your lawyer. These new provisions may make it harder to find a lawyer who is willing to represent you. If you can™t find a lawyer to represent you from the start, you can file the suit yourself and ask the court to ﬁappointﬂ or get a lawyer for you. Unlike in a criminal case, you have no absolute right to a free attorney in a civil case about prison abuse. This means that a judge is not required by law to appoint counsel for you in a Section 1983 case, but he or she can appoint counsel if he or she chooses. You will learn how to ask the judge to get you a lawyer in Chapter Five, Section C, Part 3 of this Handbook. A judge can appoint a lawyer as soon as you file your suit. But it is much more likely that he or she will only appoint a lawyer for you if you successfully get your case moving forward, and convince the judge that you have a chance of winning. This means that the judge may wait until after he or she rules on the prison officials™ motions to dismiss your complaint or motion for summary judgment. Chapters Five and Six of this Handbook will help you prepare your basic legal papers and respond to a motion to dismiss or motion for summary judgment. Even if you have a lawyer from the start, this Handbook is still useful to help you understand what he or she is doing.
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JAILHOUSE LAWYER™S HA NDBOOK Œ CHAPTER ONE 5Be sure your lawyer explains the choices you have at each stage of the case. Remember that he or she is working for you . This means that he or she should answer your letters and return your phone calls within a reasonable amount of time. Don™t be afraid to ask your lawyer questions. If you don™t understand what is happening in your case, ask your lawyer to explain it to you. Don™t ever let your lawyer force decisions on you or do things you don™t want. SECTION E A Short History Of Section 1983 and the Struggle For Prisoners™ Rights As you read in Sections A and C, most prisoners who decide to challenge abuse or mistreatment in prison will do so through a federal law known as ﬁSection 1983.ﬂ Section 1983 is a way for any individual (not just a prisoner) to challenge something done by a state employee. The part of the law you need to understand reads as follows: Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress – Section A of Chapter Two will explain what this means in detail, but we will give you some background information here, because the history of prisoners™ struggles in the courts starts with the history of Section 1983. Section 1983 is a law that was passed by the United States Congress over 100 years ago, but it had very little effect until the 1960s. Section 1983 was originally known as Section 1 of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. Section 1983 does not mention race, and it is available for use by people of any color, but it was originally passed specifi cally to help African- Americans enforce the new constitutional rights they won after the Civil War — specifically, the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to th e U.S. Constitution. Those amendments made slavery illegal, established the right to ﬁdue process of lawﬂ and equal protection of the laws, and guaranteed every male citizen the right to vote. Although these Amendments became law, white racist judges in the state courts refused to enforce these laws, especially when people had their rights violated by other state or local government officials. The U.S. Congress passed Section 1983 to allow people to sue in federal court when a state or local official violated their federal rights. Soon after Section 1983 became law, however, Northern big businessmen joined forces with Southern plantation owners to take back the limited freedom that African-Americans had won. Federal judges found excuses to undermine Section 1983 along with most of the other civil rights bills passed by Congress. Although the purpose of Section 1983 was to bypass the racist state courts, federal judges ruled that most lawsuits had to go back to those same state courts. Their rulings remained law until African-Americans began to regain their political strength through the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In the 1960s, a series of very good Supreme Court cases reversed this trend and transformed Section 1983 into an extremely valuable tool for state prisoners. Prisoners soon began to file more and more federal suits challenging prison abuses. A few favorable decisions were won, dealing mainly with freedom of religion, guard brutality, and a prisoner™s right to take legal action without interference from prison staff. But many judges still continued to believe that the courts should let prison officials make the rules, no matter what those officials did. This way of thinking is called the ﬁhands-off doctrineﬂ because judges keep their ﬁhands offﬂ prison administration. The next big breakthrough for prisoners did not come until the early 1970s. African-Americans only began to win legal rights when they organized together politically, and labor unions only achieved legal recognition after they won important strikes. In the same way, prisoners did not begin to win many important court decisions until the prison movement grew strong. Powerful, racially united strikes and rebellions shook Folsom Prison, San Quentin, Attica and other prisons throughout the country during the early 1970s. These rebellions brought the terrible conditions of prisons into the public eye and had some positive effects on the way federal courts dealt with prisoners. Prisoners won important federal court ru lings on living conditions, access to the media, and procedures and methods of discipline. Unfortunately, the federal courts did not stay receptive to prisoners™ struggles for long. In 1996, Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law the Prison
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