The Special Litigation Section works to protect the rights of people who are in prisons and jails run by state or local governments. If we find that a state or local government systematically deprives people in these facilities of their rights, we can act.
We use information from community members affected by civil rights violations to bring and pursue cases. The voice of the community is very important to us. We receive hundreds of reports of potential violations each week. We collect this information and it informs our case selection. We may sometimes use it as evidence in an existing case. However, we cannot bring a case based on every report we receive.
Description of the Laws We Use in Our Corrections Work
The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997a, allows the Attorney General to review conditions and practices within these institutions. Under CRIPA, we are not authorized to address issues with federal facilities or federal officials. We do not assist with individual problems, and we therefore cannot help you recover money damages or any other personal relief. We also cannot assist in criminal cases, including wrongful convictions, appeals or sentencing.
After a CRIPA investigation, we can act if we identify a systemic pattern or practice that causes harm. Evidence of harm to one individual only - even if that harm is serious - is not enough. If we find systemic problems, we may send the state or local government a letter that describes the problems and what says what steps they must take to fix them. We will try to reach an agreement with the state or local government on how to fix the problems. If we cannot agree, then the Attorney General may file a lawsuit in federal court.
In addition to actions under CRIPA, the Section may use the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141, to protect the rights of persons in the juvenile justice system.
Results of Our Corrections Work
Tens of thousands of institutionalized persons who were confined in dire, often life-threatening, conditions now receive adequate care and services because of this work. We currently have open CRIPA matters in more than half the states.
Our work includes many different kinds of activity. We speak with community stakeholders. We review and investigate complaints. We file lawsuits in federal court when necessary, and enforce orders we obtain from the courts. We participate in cases brought by private parties. We work closely with nationally renowned experts to provide training and technical assistance.
We work closely with other parts of the Justice Department and other federal agencies that regulate, fund, and provide technical assistance to state and local governments. We work with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the National Institute of Justice, the Bureau of Prisons, the United States Department of Education, the Department of Housing, and the United States Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, our staff serves on the Department's Health Care Fraud Working Group, the Prison Rape Elimination Working Group, and other task forces.
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