May 6, 2014
Ruiz v. Estelle
Ruiz v. Estelle, filed in United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, eventually became the most far-reaching lawsuit on the conditions of prison incarceration in American history. It began as a civil action, a handwritten petition filed against the Texas Department of Corrections (TDC) in 1972 by inmate David Resendez Ruiz alleging that the conditions of his incarceration, such as overcrowding, lack of access to health care, and abusive security practices, were a violation of his constitutional rights. In 1974, the petition was joined by seven other inmates and became a class action suit known as Ruiz v. Estelle. The trial ended in 1979 with the ruling that the conditions of imprisonment within the TDC prison system constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the United States Constitution, with the original report issued in 1980, a 118 page decision by Judge William Justice. There followed decades of further litigation in the form of consent decrees, appeals and other legal actions, until a final judgment was rendered in 1992. But problems in enforcement continued, and in 1996 U.S. Congress enacted the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) to address these issues as well as abuse of the prison litigation process. However, in October 1997, the district court, still not satisfied with the compliance of the TDC, gave permission for continuing site visits by attorneys and experts for the inmate class, and this continued into 1999. In response to this, the TDC issued more than 450,000 pages of evidence and accepted 50 additional site visits. In 2001, the court found that the TDC was in compliance on the issue of use of force against inmates and had adequate policies and procedures in place. However, the court continued to have issues with the current and ongoing constitutional violations regarding administrative segregation in the conditions of confinement and the...
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