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'To Be or Not To Be: What Is the Answer?' The Use of Habeas Corpus To Attack Improper Prison Conditions

NCJ Number
New England Journal of Criminal and Civil Confinement Volume: 13 Issue: 2 Dated: (Summer 1987) Pages: 149-170
S Singer
Date Published
22 pages
This article examines Federal court decisions pertinent to the use of habeas corpus to challenge improper prison conditions.
Because the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet definitively answered the question of whether habeas corpus is a proper remedy when inmates challenge their conditions of confinement, the circuit courts have decided the issue as they see proper. The Supreme Court and the circuit courts have generally allowed the use of the writ to challenge prison conditions when a substantial constitutional violation has occurred, when an inmate has been denied access to the courts, and when a prisoner seeks to move from arduous to less restrictive confinement conditions. When courts have denied the use of the writ, it has been based on the traditional notions of habeas corpus and precedent that restricts its use to challenges of the fact and duration of confinement. Because recent Supreme Court rulings regarding the use of habeas corpus to challenge prison conditions have been enigmatic, the Court should announce a rule in this area due to the intracircuit splits on the issue in the Third and Ninth Circuit Courts. Haphazard, case-by-case adjudication should not be the policy when addressing such serious issues as confinement conditions. 125 footnotes.


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