Better Policies & Procedures Can Reduce the Risk of Inmate Lawsuits

Do you worry about the possibility of an inmate lawsuit, a case where the inmate alleges that your agency or facility has violated their constitutional rights? Inmates’ constitutional rights are well discussed, understood, and included in most organization’s policies and procedures. Yet, inmate lawsuits are more prevalent than ever.

The Prison Litigation Reform Act, passed in 1996, sought to reduce frivolous lawsuits filed by inmates. Unfortunately, however, the number of constitutional violation claims by inmates continues to grow and forces jail and prison administrators to address the possibility, if not the probability, that an inmate lawsuit may be brought against their facility.

The Prison Litigation Reform Act

The Prison Litigation Reform Act placed restriction on inmate lawsuits by requiring inmates to exhaust all levels of the prison or jail’s grievance procedures prior to filing suit and by limiting an inmate’s ability to recover compensation for mental or emotional injury.

The legislation also restricts the power of the federal courts to make or enforce orders limiting overcrowding. Plus, it places limits on plaintiff’s attorney fees.

The 3 Areas Cited in Most Inmate Lawsuits

By understanding the areas within a facility with the greatest potential of being targeted with a civil rights claim, administrators can take precautionary actions. The three areas most often subject to claims of civil rights violations in a jail or prison are:

  • Access to medical care
  • Wrongful death resulting from suicide
  • Excessive use of force

Administrators must understand and address the responsibilities of administration, operational staff, and medical staff in each of these areas.

The Best Defense Against Inmate Lawsuits

Through time, administrators have discovered that their best defense in such issues can be found in three areas:

  • Written policies and procedures
  • Training
  • Enforcement of their policies and procedures

Well written policies and procedures describe the manner in which issues are handled by administrators and staff, and clearly delineate the penological interest forming the basis of the stated policies and procedures.

Staff training regarding each policy and procedure is imperative. Staff must know and understand what is demanded and expected of them in such situations. Finally, administration must enforce the policies and procedures, demanding that they are followed and not just “lip service” to be dismissed while an alternative custom is practiced.

Claims of civil rights violations in inmate lawsuits are not going away. Therefore, it falls to jail and prison administrators to protect both their agency and staff as best they can.

Need Better Policies and Procedures?

Agencies without written policies or documented procedures, or those looking to improve their written documentation, can find well written and trial tested policies and procedures sets via OSS Law Enforcement Advisors. These can be adapted to fit an agency’s specific needs and requirements.

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