Judges Behind Bars: The Intrusiveness Requirement’s Restriction on the Implementation of Relief Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act

By:  Kiira J. Johal


Since its enactment, the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 (PLRA) has obstructed prisoners from bringing suit in federal court. In the relatively uncommon cases where prison lawsuits do succeed under the PLRA, the statute authorizes courts to implement and enforce relief to curb the constitutional violation found in that case. In authorizing such judicial authority, the PLRA also requires any implemented relief to be “the least intrusive means necessary” to correct the violation. Representing an interest in balancing relief for prisoners with the penological autonomy of prison administrators, the precise meaning of that intrusiveness requirement remains unclear, and its potential to restrict judges in ensuring much needed relief for prison populations remains uncertain. This Note explores the parameters of the intrusiveness requirement in light of the limited number of cases to address it and offers a practical interpretation that will allow judges the flexibility to curb severe constitutional violations within America’s prisons where they are found to exist.



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