Washington Law Review


Lisa Benedetti


The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA) arose from Congress’s intent to curb frivolous and institutionally invasive prisoner civil rights litigation. In furtherance of its goals, the PLRA limits the prospective relief prisoners can receive to such relief that is narrowly tailored to the federal rights violation at issue and the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation, otherwise known as the need-narrownessintrusiveness standard. Under the PLRA, prospective relief includes all relief other than compensatory monetary damages. However, while the courts have frequently applied and interpreted the PLRA over the past decade, only one circuit has addressed whether prospective relief as defined in the PLRA includes punitive damages. In Johnson v. Breeden, the Eleventh Circuit held that the term “prospective relief” includes punitive damages and that as a result, the PLRA requires that punitive damages conform to the need-narrownessintrusiveness standard. This Comment argues that based on the inherent differences between punitive damages and prospective relief, the text of the PLRA, and the legislative intent behind the statute, prospective relief as defined by the PLRA does not, and should not, encompass punitive damages awarded to prisoners for violations of federal law.

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