Those most in need of a lawyer are frequently the least likely to have access to one. This oft-repeated proverb is particularly true for inmates asserting their constitutional rights and seeking redress for constitutional deprivations at the hands of prison officials. Inmates and their pro bono counsel are often unnecessarily stymied by one particular hurdle when they file suit over prison conditions, the exhaustion requirement of the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The PLRA requires inmates to use all available means to address their grievances before filing a lawsuit. The PLRA is necessary for judicial economy, but the exhaustion requirement is often overused to curtail the rights of prisoner. This article outlines the exhaustion requirement and defenses pro bono counsel can use to avoid dismissal of the case.
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