Citizens In Chains: The High Cost of Prisoner Lawsuits to California Taxpayers

Tom Scott
CA Executive Director, National Federation of Independent Business

Last week Citizen’s Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) released a new study focusing on prisoner litigation.  At a time when this state is in complete lock-down on the budget it seemed like an interesting topic to raise.  Civil litigation by prisoners  has cost the taxpayers of California nearly $200 million.  And that does not include federal class actions and the subsequent receiver and three judge panel put in place by federal courts or habeas corpus lawsuits. It also does not include the bureaucracy that is involved to deal with the litigation, such as the Litigation Coordinators at each of the 33 prisons in our state or the staff that assists them in monitoring the caseload and the administrative fees.  Some of these coordinators make nearly $120,000 a year.

Let me make it clear that not all lawsuits are frivolous.  Certainly there are issues that need to be heard and prisoners deserve  a venue for grievances, but spending an average $32 million dollars a year, enough to fund the care and feeding for nearly 500 prisoners, seems over the top.  I do not think the average citizen has a clue that  these costs are so high.

When CALA released the report it was joined by former State Senate Minority Leader Jim Nielsen and founder of Crime Victims United Harriett Salarno.  CALA, which serves as a watchdog over the civil litigation system, called for common sense reforms such as a bill that was killed earlier this year by Assemblyman Roger Niello that would have  allowed judges to dismiss frivolous claims from lawsuits  while keeping claims with merit.  Other prosed reforms include stricter adherence to the Prison Litigation Reform Act, strengthening of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Administrative Appeals process, and the creation of an Office of Litigation Prevention.

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