The Public Interest

Prison discipline and prison reform

John J. DiIulio, Jr.

Fall 1987

IN 1954, a federal circuit court ruled that judges are “without power to direct prison administration or to interfere with ordinary prison rules and regulations.” Today, however, judges exercise enormous influence over what prison administrators do and how they do it. Since 1970 the courts have intervened on a wide range of prison issues, including crowding, food services, sanitation, health care, due process protections for inmates, and the constitutionality of prison conditions. In 1986, some thirty corrections agencies were operating under court directives; many had class action suits in progress and population limits set by the courts; over a dozen states had court-appointed special masters, monitors, and compliance coordinators.

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