Center on Sentencing and Corrections

A Wrong Without a Right? Overcoming the Prison Litigation Reform Act's Physical Injury Requirement in Solitary Confinement Cases

A Wrong Without a Right? Overcoming the Prison Litigation Reform Act's Physical Injury Requirement in Solitary Confinement Cases

Filler, Maggie and Daniel Greenfield. “A Wrong Without a Right? Overcoming the Prison Litigation Reform Act’s Physical Injury Requirement in Solitary Confinement Cases.” Northwestern University Law Review 115, no. 1 (2020), 257-272.

 

This journal article published in the Northwestern University Law Review examines the “physical injury” requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) and argues that it significantly limits the ability of survivors of solitary confinement to receive monetary compensation for psychological damages suffered while in isolation. The Prison Litigation Reform Act was passed in 1996 and sought to limit illegitimate prisoner lawsuitsThe physical injury requirement often puts survivors of solitary confinement at a disadvantage, as some courts do not interpret psychological trauma as sufficient “physical injury.”  

This article identifies three ways in which the physical injury requirement fails to bring justice to survivors of solitary confinement: the “de minimis” standard that is wrongly alleged to claim insufficient injury, the refusal of courts to consider psychological trauma as a cause of physical injury, and the failure of the PLRA to distinguish “garden variety” emotional suffering from serious psychiatric illnesses caused by solitary confinement such as depression and psychosis. The article concludes that the psychical injury requirement of the PLRA is contradictory to its alleged purpose of ensuring meritorious prisoner lawsuits receive federal judicial resources. 

Click here to read the journal article. 

 

Keywords: solitary confinement, administrative segregation, restrictive housing, prison isolation, PLRA, physical injury, physical injury requirement, prisoner lawsuits, mental health, psychological harm, 8th Amendment, Eighth Amendment, cruel and unusual punishment.