The Eighth Amendment’s Punishments Clause provides the basis on which prisoners may bring suit alleging unconstitutional conditions of confinement. Only a small number of these suits are successful. The suits that do survive typically end in a settlement in which prison authorities agree to address the unconstitutional conditions. However, settlements such as these are easily flouted for two primary reasons: prison authorities are not personally held liable when settlements are broken, and prisoners largely lack the political and practical leverage to self-advocate beyond the courtroom. Because of this, unconstitutional prison conditions may linger for years after prison authorities have agreed to ameliorate them. This is an unacceptable result, and one that is largely shielded from the public eye. This Comment contends that if the United States is to fulfill its promise that “cruel and unusual punishments” will not be inflicted on its prison populations, the judiciary’s methods of enforcing settlements must be expanded beyond the fines it currently employs. This Comment provides a brief grounding in Punishment Clause suits based on select conditions of confinement issues and discusses a real-world example of a prison settlement that went largely ignored for several years. It then proposes three statutory modifications as stronger enforcement methods that the judiciary may employ post-settlement: partial abrogation of qualified immunity, modification of the deliberate indifference standard, and a loosening of the strictures of the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Finally, this Comment also offers a policy solution pre-incarceration: strengthened adherence to the twin prosecutorial duties of protecting the public and imposing alternatives to incarceration.
When Fines Don't Go Far Enough: The Failure of Prison Settlements and Proposals for More Effective Enforcement Methods,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol76/iss1/6