Prisons and Lawsuits

In 2008, CALA published a report titled, "Citizens in Chains: The High Cost of Prisoner Lawsuits to California." The report discussed the average $32 million being spent every year on prisoner-initiated litigation and how it could be spent more in line with taxpayers’ interests.

I started thinking about it again while attending a Folsom Prison Citizens Advisory Committee meeting (I am an appointee to the committee) and wondering whether this situation has improved since 2008. Are things better or worse and how much is still being spent on litigation? During the meeting, the warden stated that a lot of his time is spent on litigation and even the chair of the committee (a retired warden of eight years) said she, too, is still dealing with litigation.

An article in the in the San Francisco Chronicle back in 1995 stated that in 1994, 53,312 inmate lawsuits were filed in federal courts and 4,363 prisoner lawsuits were filed in California U.S. District Courts. At the time there were 51 attorneys in the California Attorney General's office who did nothing else but defend the state against prisoner claims.

Unfortunately, things have not improved. In the 12-month period from 3/31/10 to 3/31/11, there were 53,323 inmate lawsuits filed in the federal court according to the Administrative Office of the US Courts, and each of California’s 33 prisons continues to have to employ a litigation coordinator.

Taxpayers are still paying millions to defend the state of California against lawsuits brought by prisoners. These lawsuits are a burden to our prisons and to our courts at a time when funding for our courts has been slashed to the bone. Taxpayers have a right to know how much is being spent on these lawsuits and the impact it has on our state.

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