US Supreme Court: Private prisoners can't sue in federal court

File: A California Department of Corrections officer speaks to inmates at Chino State Prison
File: A California Department of Corrections officer speaks to inmates at Chino State Prison Kevork Djansezian/Getty

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in a case involving a prisoner in a privately-run federal penitentiary in California. The high court ruled an injured prisoner can’t take his case to federal court.

The case involved Richard Lee Pollard, an inmate injured while working in the butcher shop at the privately run Taft Correctional Institute. By an 8-1 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the prisoner didn’t need to sue in federal court since state law is capable of "protecting the constitutional interests at stake."

Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer acknowledged that suing under state law "may sometimes prove less generous" than a federal lawsuit. In arguments before the court, Pollard’s lawyer said his client, who initiated the suit on his own, filed a federal case because law books in the prison library only covered federal law.

The ruling reinforces an earlier Supreme Court ruling that private prison corporations are exempt from federal lawsuits; now, employees at those facilities are protected from being sued as well.

More than 25,000 inmates are housed in privately run federal prisons nationwide.

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