Inmate Litigation and How is it has Affected the Administration of Correctional Facilities

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The administration of correctional institutions, such as prisons and jails is largely unclear and misunderstood. For a long time, correctional facilities in the United States remain challenged by the continuing problems of prison overcrowding, poor administration among other criminal justice policy issues. Conversely, reform efforts such as the introduction of institutional litigation have played a critical role in enhancing the capacity of correctional facilities to uphold constitutional values and rights in their administrative functions. Based on empirical and practical explanations, the paper shall explore the various aspects of inmate litigation and its effects on the administration of correctional facilities. Primarily, the paper seeks to analyze whether modernization of the correctional bureaucracy structure contributes to attainment of critical public policy goals.

An Overview of Prison Litigation

Prison reforms represent a modern phenomenon adopted by governments and other relevant stakeholders to address the appalling state of correctional facilities through the introduction of new constitutional values to improve the living conditions and services offered in prisons and jails across the United States. According to Danver (2011), the introduction of court orders to guide the operation of prison systems emerged in the mid 1970s. The following years witnessed increased levels of federal-court involvement in prisons to address the overwhelming prison overcrowding crisis and administrative challenges. By 1990, more than 320 State Correctional Facilities operated under court order or consent decree based on specific conditions of confinement orders. Although, such institutional changes were designed to ease the effects of perceived overcrowding in prisons (such as the emergence of volatile prison gangs), recent studies have failed to establish a substantial correlation between increasing the prison population densities and violence, health problems, psychological effects and other tangible harms associated with the prison overcrowding crisis. Since the first introduction of prison-crowding litigation in 1965, almost all States have pursued overcrowding litigation in their attempts to improve the institutional capacity of correctional facilities (DiIulio, 2010).

According to Danver (2011), efforts to strengthen organizational rationality and legality of the operations of prisons and jails have contributed to the professionalization of prison administration. Efforts to modernize the structure of correctional bureaucracy have lead to the introduction of new regulations, statutes and guidelines to govern operations of prisons and jails. More generally, these changes have emerged to structure the administrative functions and governance operations of correctional institutions and systems through increased accountability, transparency and effective service delivery (Stelloh, 2013).

Institutional litigation has strengthened the capacity of state correction departments to diagnose problems, mobilize and deploy resources to meet their needs. Efforts by most States to review their level of compliance with the existing constitutional conditions of confinement following the introduction of court orders and other institutional changes remains critical in improving the operations of prisons and jails (Derthick, 2001). For example, by employing lawyers and compliance officers, The California Department of Corrections has adopted a proactive approach to develop and review correctional policies and practices to anticipate and address legal challenges, provide constitutional protection for inmates, and avoid cases of litigation (Stelloh, 2013).

The implementation of litigation and court orders has also contributed to increased partnership among different stakeholders in the administration and governance of correction facilities. DiIulio (2010) asserts that, efforts to professionalize operations in correctional facilities through litigation requires an integrated approach to accommodate the contribution of various parties to meet court-imposed constitutional standards set by the by courts. Some of the notable examples of organizations actively involved in the training and performing of clearinghouse functions include the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association and the American Association of Architects, which have publicized correctional standards within their respective areas (Derthick, 2001). Similarly, efforts by the American Correctional Association (ACA) to develop and oversee the implementation of a system of accreditation of state prisons and jails have sought to strengthen the proper use of administrative tools such as policies, procedures, budgets, audits and documentation in the administrative functions of prisons (DiIulio, 2010).

One of the significant changes brought out by the new prison litigation is the call for increased financing of local jails by States. In addition, most states are now working towards strengthening their oversight and regulatory frameworks, reviewing prison operating procedures, construction and designs for new facilities, and upholding health, food and safety standards in accordance with the state administrative procedures and overall constitutional requirements (Stelloh, 2013).

However, many correctional facilities still experience distinctive difficulties in response to court orders and litigation. Danver (2011) asserts that, most local jails lack sound administrative depth and expertise to ensure efficient response to constitutional issues resulting from litigation and court orders. It is necessary to mention that, the administrative interventions in most correctional facilities fails to provide efficient governance to support sustainable correctional treatment programs and policies, and, therefore, undermines the administrative responses to constitutional issues experienced in correctional facilities (Bobo, 2005).


The expanding roles of state involvement in the administrative functions of correctional facilities elucidate the need to strengthen the institutional capacities of prisons and jails to address correctional law issues. With about 6.9 million people under some form of correctional supervision in the United States, the need to reform the administrative capabilities of correctional facilities remain paramount. Although the adoption of prison litigation and court orders contributes to improved adherence to constitutional values in the administration and governance of correctional facilities, such policy changes have failed to provide tangible benefits on a larger scale. Issues of prison violence, misconduct, corruption, abuse of basic constitutional rights of prisoners and inadequacy of resources continue to challenge the administrative capacity of correctional facilities.


Bobo, B. F. (2005). Rich country, poor country: The multinational as a change agent. Westport: Praeger.

Danver, S. L. (2011). Popular controversies in world history: Investigating history's intriguing questions. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO.

Derthick, M. (2001). Dilemmas of scale in America's federal democracy. Cambridge: CambridgeUniv. Press.

DiIulio, J. J. (2010). Courts, corrections, and the Constitution: The impact of judicial intervention on prisons and jails. New York: Oxford University Press.

Stelloh, T. (2013). California's Great Prison Experiment. Nation, 296(26/27), 31-34.