× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.
Damn Lies and Statistics
The NAAG's campaign to target prisoner litigants is being waged not only in the state houses, but through the media via a well coordinated PR campaign. Media outlets across the country have been fed "Top Ten" frivolous prisoner lawsuit press releases, and since prisoners are a favorite scapegoat of the media, those press releases received prominent coverage.
To lend credence to their anti-prisoner propaganda, the press releases typically cite statistics 'proving" how pervasive the problem of prisoner litigation is. Oft cited are figures such as the following: In 1986 the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts counted about 22,000 § 1983 lawsuits filed by prisoners. In 1992 the number of prisoner § 1983 lawsuits was approximately 26,800 - a 22 percent increase in just six years! The NAAG press releases provide no further statistical analysis, implying that none is needed. Consider, however, the following:
In that same six-year period (1986-1992) the number of prisoners increased 62 percent. So even though the number of prisoner-initiated lawsuits rose during that period, it actually decreased on a per capita basis.
According to Department of Justice figures there were 882,500 state and federal prisoners in 1992. Considering that they filed 26,800 lawsuits, that indicates about one lawsuit for every 33 prisoners.
Are prisoners "more litigious" than the rest of society? The National Center for State Courts recorded 14.8 million civil lawsuits filed by the general public in 1993. Using 1990 census figures to estimate the total U.S. population at 250 million, that means the public filed one civil lawsuit for every 17 Americans. That is almost twice the rate at which prisoners litigate!
But those figures are for state courts. Who is the plaintiff in most lawsuits settled by the federal courts? The federal government is the plaintiff in more civil suits adjudicated by federal courts than prisoners and private citizens combined.
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login