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During the last decade the increasing volume of pro se prisoner civil rights actions on the dockets of the district courts has caused extreme frustration for most of those dealing with them. The district judges and magistrates, burdened with heavy caseloads and accustomed to the well drafted pleadings and briefs of federal practitioners, have been struggling to comprehend vague, verbose, rambling pleadings prepared by pro se prisoners and to keep abreast of the rapidly evolving case law. They have sometimes been perplexed to find their dismissals abruptly and critically reversed by the courts of appeals. At times, the circuit judges have been dismayed by the lower courts' hasty dismissals and the inadequacy of the records brought to them on appeal. Pro se prisoners subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement have groped in the confusing maze of federal and local rules, pleadings, motions, and decisional law. Conscientious prison officials, with limited funds and outdated facilities, have had to defend themselves from frivolous claims for money damages brought against them by their charges. Over-worked deputy attorneys general and municipal and county solicitors have struggled to respond to incomprehensible pleadings and to understand the developing case law. It is hoped that this volume will offer some small measure of relief to all these participants. It will not make these cases easy to handle, but hopefully it will shorten the preliminary research time for the members of the federal judiciary, affording them more time for thoughtful consideration of the important issues presented in each case, and help the prisoners, prison officials and defense attorneys understand the extent and limits of the basic rights guaranteed to prisoners under the United States Constitution.
I am indebted to many people for their support and help. First are the other members of the Aldisert committee and our chairman, the Honorable Ruggero J. Aldisert, United States Circuit Judge, who have advised and counseled me and given me editorial assistance. As a United States Magistrate handling a high volume of pro se prisoner civil rights cases the opportunity to
discuss the unique problems encountered in these cases with a small, thoughtful group composed of distinguished circuit and district judges and law professors has been invaluable. In addition to the members of the committee I am indebted to Frank J. Remington, Professor of Law, University of Wisconsin, our reporter, and attorney Alan Chaset, Assistant Director of Research, Federal Judicial Center.
This project had its inception in March 1975 when the United States district judges for the Western District of Pennsylvania authorized me to handle all the pro se prisoner civil rights actions filed in our district. I am indebted to them for their continuing support of my work.
I am further indebted to my secretary, Susan M. Ratica, who meticulously and graciously retyped each "final" revision in addition to her myriad other duties. Vicki Thompson, Editor in chief of the Duquesne Law Review, 1978-79, assisted me with editing and wrote the difficult chapter on medical care. I also received editorial assistance from Betsy McKnight and William L. Lafferty and typing assistance from Beverly Ridge, Pat Buddemeyer and Barbara Peterson.
Other works on prisoner civil rights cases which the reader may find helpful include a two volume paperback set, Prisoners' Rights 1979 (Course Handbook Series Number 105) produced by the staff of the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation and published by the Practicing Law Institute, New York City; a casebook by Hillel Hoffman, Prisoners' Rights Treatment of Prisoners and Post-Conviction Remedies, published by Matthew Bender, 1976; and an extensive unpublished outline of cases on the rights of pretrial detainees, Index to the Law of Conditions and Practices of Pre-Trial Detention, prepared by the staff of the Prisoners' Rights Project of the Criminal Appeals Bureau of the Legal Aid Society of the City of New York.
It is my hope that this volume will expedite the speedy dismissal of frivolous and malicious claims and the prompt and thoughtful hearing and disposition of meritorious ones.
Ila Jeanne Sensenich