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Publication Prisoner Petitions in the Federal Courts, 1980-96

John Scalia

October 29, 1997    NCJ 164615

Describes the increase in petitions filed in Federal courts (both U.S. district and U.S. appellate) by Federal and State inmates from 1980 to 1995, as well as the high dismissal rate and the low success rate. Inmates can challenge the constitutionality of their incarceration or the conditions of their confinement or compel government officials to perform a duty owed. Federal inmates can also challenge the constitutionality of the sentence imposed. While prisoner petitions filed in U.S. district court nearly tripled between 1980 and 1996 -- increasing from 23,230 to 63,634 -- they increased at a slower rate than the prison population. Consequently, the number of petitions filed per 1,000 inmates decreased 17% between 1980 and 1996. In 1995, 62% of prisoner petitions filed and 52% of those appealed were dismissed. Less than 2% of those filed were decided in favor of the inmate.

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