Anti-Incarcerative Remedies for Illegal Conditions of Confinement
University of Miami Race & Social Justice Law Review (Forthcoming)
30 Pages Posted: 25 May 2016 Last revised: 16 Aug 2016
Date Written: May 24, 2016
Our bloated prisoner population includes many people who are especially likely to face grievous harm in jail and prison--prisoners with mental illness, serious intellectual disabilities, chronic illnesses, and physical disabilities; gay, lesbian, and transgender prisoners; juveniles in adult facilities and others. In this symposium essay, I argue that when such difficulties are manifest, and create conditions of confinement that are illegal under the Eighth Amendment, Americans with Disabilities Act, or other source of law, plaintiffs should seek, and courts should grant, court-enforceable remedies diverting prisoners away from incarceration, in order to keep vulnerable populations out of jail and prison. What’s novel about this proposal is not the diversionary remedies themselves, but the connection of such programs to conditions of confinement litigation. Only rarely have such initiatives — which I label “anti-incarcerative” — been imposed or negotiated as court-enforceable solutions for jail or prisons conditions problems. And when they have, it’s mostly been to facilitate compliance with a court-ordered population cap. What I’m urging is a new generation of anti-incarcerative remedies in conditions lawsuits, unconnected to a population order, whose purpose is to keep vulnerable would-be prisoners out of harm’s way by promoting workable alternatives to incarceration.
In Part I, I describe the history of population caps in conditions of confinement lawsuits. These kinds of direct population limits — still available and valuable, in the right case — constituted a first generation of decarcerative conditions orders. They are important both historically and because they demonstrate that ordinary remedial law allows court orders that keep prisoners out of prison in order to avoid constitutional problems inside. I next highlight in Part II a few pioneering court orders that have specified anti-incarcerative remedies, hooked to alleged or proven unconstitutional conditions caused by crowding. Like the population caps, these orders have aimed explicitly at population reduction. I move in Parts III and IV to two models for anti-incarcerative orders that are not premised on crowding. In Part III, I examine recent remedies addressing unconstitutional solitary confinement. Many of these recent orders have not simply barred prisons from imposing the solitary conditions plaintiffs allege are unconstitutional. Rather, they establish and regulate alternatives to solitary confinement. A final useful model, which I examine in Part IV, can be found in ongoing deinstitutionalization remedies in cases, on the model of Olmstead v. L.C, that enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act, which have focused more on provision of services in the community than on institutional exclusions. The orders in both Parts III and IV support my contention that the ordinary law of remedies allows entry of orders keeping prisoners out of a situation in which they would face unconstitutional harm. Finally, in Part V, I explain why the Prison Litigation Reform Act’s constraints on “prisoner release orders” should not obstruct a new generation of anti-incarcerative orders.
Our national infatuation with incarceration has led to the damaging imprisonment of many vulnerable people in jails and prisons ill-equipped to house them safely — people with mental and physical disabilities, juveniles, the elderly, minor offenders, and others. When a particular facility or system is unable to provide these prisoners with lawful conditions of confinement, plaintiffs should seek, and federal courts should grant, anti-incarcerative orders that facilitate alternatives.
Keywords: prison, jail, Eighth Amendment, constitutional remedies, PLRA, population cap
JEL Classification: K14, K41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation