Prisoners Not Entitled

To Full Law Libraries

October 18, 1996

You've seen it on television: ridiculous lawsuits, filed one after another, by prison inmates with a lot spare time and easy access to every variety of law book. Is there any end to this madness?

Maybe so. As we reported earlier, the Ohio legislature recently placed a time limit on actions by prison inmates for post-conviction relief. (See Crime & Punishment, March, 1996). Since then, the United States Supreme Court has decided that inmates do not have an "abstract, free-standing" right to a complete prison law library.

In making that decision, the high court overturned a federal appeals court decision which set specific standards for so-called "adequate" prison law libraries. Speaking for the court, Justice Scalia stated that prisoners have a right of access to the courts, not a specific right to a full law library. He further noted that access to the courts was guaranteed for challenges to prisoners' sentences and the conditions of their confinement; they are not guaranteed the right to "transform themselves into litigating engines capable of filing everything from shareholder derivative actions to slip-and-fall claims."

Will this put an end to frivolous prisoner lawsuits? Probably not. However, it may hamper the ability of inmates to churn out the endless legal drivel that they have previously used to harass the justice system. A good start, to say the least!

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