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Commentaries on Prisoner Litigation, 9 Justice System Journal 347 (1984)


This special issue on prison litigation is well-timed. As Tinsley Yarbrough notes in "The Alabama Prison Litigation," we are nearing the twentieth anniversary of court decrees mandating changes in penal institutions. It is an appropriate occasion to reflect on what we have learned and what we have yet to know concerning the interaction between courts and prisons. The five articles in this volume provide information about a variety of problems, from sentencing and institutionalization to court reform and the use of alternative dispute-resolution in prisons.

The articles presented here, as well as other compilations and discussions, indicate that we have learned a good deal. We have gained a more complete appreciation of the complexity of the problem of prison reform. The somewhat naive hope that a court order, mandating "constitutional conditions of confinement" would result within a reasonable amount of time in great improvements within prisons has been replaced with a more somber appreciation for the enormity of that task. Court decrees have begun to mirror that understanding. These days, the parties to prison cases often negotiate the language of decrees prior to the entry of judgment, and the courts have become increasingly specific in detailing what is required for compliance.

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