A Wrong Without a Right? Overcoming the Prison Litigation Reform Act’s Physical Injury Requirement in Solitary Confinement Cases

Maggie Filler & Daniel Greenfield | August 30, 2020

This Essay argues against applying the so-called “physical injury” requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) to deny monetary compensation to solitary confinement survivors. The Essay identifies three ways in which misapplication of the PLRA’s physical injury requirement limits the ability of solitary confinement survivors to receive monetary compensation for psychological harm suffered. First, some courts applying the PLRA wrongly dismiss damages claims for alleging “de minimis” physical injury. Second, some courts have been reluctant to find that physical injury caused by psychological trauma satisfies the PLRA’s physical injury requirement. Third, courts do not distinguish between “garden variety” mental and emotional suffering and psychiatric illness in applying the physical injury bar. This Essay contends that this jurisprudence is inconsistent with the goal of preserving meritorious prisoner claims and should be reconsidered.