Sometimes prisoners sue over bad haircuts and melted ice cream. But it’s often much more serious than that. In recent years, inmate lawsuits have led to reforms that reduced overcrowding, prison violence and the use of solitary confinement. Some inmates, using handwritten petitions, have even successfully brought and won cases before the Supreme Court.
That’s no small feat. Inmates seeking access to the courts face significant hurdles due to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), a 1996 law designed to filter out frivolous filings and decrease litigation by making it more difficult for inmates to gain relief in federal courts.
Next week, the Supreme Court will consider a case that could further restrict prisoners’ access to the courts. The case, Coleman-Bey v. Tollefson, concerns the PLRA’s three-strikes rule, which says once an inmate accumulates three case dismissals, courts can no longer waive the $400 filing fee in future federal cases.