The Department has faced many legal issues during the past 30 years. Some of the
court cases with the most impact are discussed below. |
Changes in Legal Access
In 1990, twenty-two inmates of various prisons brought a class action suit
against the Department alleging they were being denied their right to access to
the courts. The district court ruled in favor of the inmates and issued an
injunction requiring the Department to "provide meaningful access to the courts
for all present and future prisoners." This order included specific times the
law libraries were to be open; that each inmate was entitled to use the law
library ten hours each week; the educational requirements of the prison
librarians; and other minute details.
The United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in 1995, and published
its opinion in June 1996. In Lewis v. Casey, the Court overturned the decision
of the lower courts, holding that the right to access to the courts did not
create a constitutional right to a law library per se. Instead the court found
that prison authorities must only provide assistance to inmates in the
preparation and filing of non-frivolous claims.
Following this decision, the Departmental policies regarding "meaningful" access
to the courts changed immensely. The Department no longer employs inmate legal
assistants or maintains inmate law libraries. The Department hired paralegals to
assist the inmates in filing appeals and other qualified claims. It created the
position of Legal Access Monitor to oversee the work of the paralegals. The team
that implemented the Inmate Access to the Courts System received the Governor's
Spirit of Excellence Award in 1998.