By: Josiah Ginsberg
Over the many years TDCJ has been housing inmates, the treatment of the inmates has grown worse.
Do to this mistreatment, over the years TDCJ has been the defendant of numerous civil rights lawsuits (know as “1983s” to Texas inmates). These lawsuits have ranged from assault of an inmate by a correctional officer, malpractice by medical, wrongful death lawsuits, theft of inmate property by the State, harassment by correctional officers, failure to provide medical services, endangering an inmate’s health, inhumane treatment, etc. Most suits are legitimate, but there are always some frivolous ones which are quickly denied.
Has TDCJ changed their treatment of inmates over the years? To be honest, in one instance it has, and that was the result of a large and long 1972 lawsuit by David Ruiz. Mr. Ruiz filled his handwritten lawsuit in 1972 alleging conditions for inmates were unconstitutional. In 1980, after courts claiming his suit was frivolous, U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice found in a 188-page ruling that Texas Prisons were overcrowded, understaffed, medical care was inadequate, and that violence between both inmates and guards was rampant.
Judge Justice ordered changes to be conducted. In the mid 1980s the Texas Legislature passed laws (which are no longer in effect today) reducing the prison population.
In 1987 Texas voters, you the citizens of Texas, approved a $600 million expansion to TDCJ which included more prisons. Texas now has over 100 prisons scattered across the state holding 170,000 prisoners. This change was ordered by Judge Justice after he found the State in contempt and threatened huge fines.
Ruiz said, “We are still human beings and should be treated in a humane manner, and there are laws supporting that. If you cage an animal and kick him every day, one day that animal is going to attack. I never asked for a Holiday Inn. I asked to be treated as a human being.”
Since Ruiz, prisons have so-called complied with laws, but still harass inmates and are still overcrowded and understaffed.
In 2001 Judge Justice ended the Federal oversight of TDCJ. Many changes resulted from this, including new policies, reduction in ability of correspondence, etc.
Due to the numerous lawsuits being recently filed by inmates and their families, the Federal District Courts have had to raise their filing fees several times, from $50 to $150 in 2000, to $250 in 2005, and this year to $350. An inmate used to be able to file a lawsuit “In Forma Pauperis” (which is a document that states an inability to pay at the current time, but that you promise to eventually pay). However, in February of this year, 5B291 was passed amending Chapter 101 of the Texas Government Code, citing that courts can charge fees to be paid later while using the “In Forma Pauperis”. It gets more complex but it is just another way of preventing inmates from filing civil suits against the system.
Once again, TDCJ is scared of its own inmates’ lawsuits. Why? because
there must be some truth behind them.
Copyright 2006. All rights reserved.
Permission is given to reproduce, send, copy, print, or otherwise duplicate this article for your benefit and the benefit of the inmates which you intend to assist with these issues. This article once duplicated in any way must not be changed or altered.
This article posted 8-2-06
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