Ann H. Mathews


The Inapplicability of the Prison Litigation Reform Act to Prisoner Claims of Excessive Force

Ann H. Mathews

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), enacted in 1996, creates numerous procedural requirements for prisoners who file civil claims challenging their conditions of confinement. Despite the severe burdens created by the PLRA and the questionable constitutionality of the filing provisions, many courts and commentators have applauded the PLRA. Not surprisingly, few challenges to the PLRA have met with success. In this Note, Ann Mathews argues that, at a minimum, the PLRA should be interpreted narrowly to exempt prisoners’ claims of excessive force from the statute’s requirements. As Mathews demonstrates, excessive force claims constitute a discrete and particularly serious category of prisoner claims that traditionally has been treated with heightened sensitivity by federal courts, including the Supreme Court. Mathews further argues that Congress, in drafting the PLRA, also recognized that increased deference is appropriate for prisoners’ claims of excessive force. Mathews concludes that excluding such claims from the PLRA not only comports with judicial precedent, statutory language, and congressional intent, but also represents appropriate public policy.