Wright v. McMann and Cruel and Unusual Punishment

AuthorBetty D. Friedlander
Date01 April 1968
Published date01 April 1968
Subject MatterArticles
which arose as a result of state prison disciplinary procedures. The
aggrieved prisoners, therefore, could only pursue whatever remedies,
if any, were available to them in state courts.’ But given the virtually
unanimous and marked reluctance of state and federal courts to review
the internal management of the prison system, such directed pursuits
were almost invariably doomed to futility.~
A number of recent United States Supreme Court decisions, how-
ever, have undermined the rationale which formerly supported the
federal courts’ refusal to take jurisdiction in these matters. Robinson v.
California, 370 U. S. 660 ( 1962), established that the Eighth Amend-
ment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, the basis of most
complaints involving prison discipline, was applicable to the states
through the Fourteenth Amendment. Cooper v. Pate, 378 U. S. 546
( 1964) settled the question that persons confined in state prisons were
within the protection of the Civil Rights Act, and in Monroe v. Pape,
365 U. S. 167 (1961) the court held that in an action under the Civil
Rights Act, federal court jurisdiction was not dependent upon a pre-
vious exhaustion of state court remedies. The court reaffirmed this
doctrine in McNeese v. Board of Education, 373 U. S. 668 ( 1963 ) .
Finally, the federal courts, while still appearing to prefer their long-
standing policy of non-interference in state prison administration, have
recently evidenced a somewhat greater willingness to intervene, espe-
* B. A. Goucher; LL.B. Cornell; Directing Attorney, Cornell Legal Aid
Clinic. Appreciation is expressed to Robert E. Lehrer (B.A. Yale; 2d year student,
Harvard Law School) for his assistance in the preparation of this comment.
See cases cited in Pierce v. Lavallee, 293 F. 2d 233, 234-5 (2d Cir. 1961).
In the state courts, see e.g. Wetzel v. Wiggins, 226 Miss. 671. 84 So. 2d
795 (1956); Dunn v. Jones, 150 Neb. 669, 35 N.W. 2d 673 (1949); People v.
Collins, 200 N.Y.S. 2d 919 (County Court 1960); Commonwealth ex rel. Smith
v. Banmiller, 194 Pa. Super. 566, 169 A. 2d 793 (1962). For this same attitude,
as reflected in the federal courts, see e.g. Henson v. Welch, 199 F. 2d 367 (4th
Cir. 1952); Adams v. Ellis, 197 F. 2d 483 (5th Cir. 1952); Pigg v. Patterson,
370 F. 2d 101 (10th Cir. 1966). See generally on this problem: Note: "Beyond
the Ken of the Courts: A Critique of Judicial Refusal to Review the Complaints
of Convicts," 72 Yale L.J. 506 (1963).

cially in cases alleging brutal and extreme excesses in prison disciplined
A significant decision emerging from the backdrop of these cases,
and the concomitantly developing judicial stance and attitudes, is Wright
v. McMann, 387 F. 2d 519 (2d Cir. 1967). Wright, a New York State
prisoner, instituted an action under the Civil Rights Act, 42 U. S. C.
1981, 1983, 1985 (3) against the Warden of Clinton State Prison.
Alleging that his constitutional rights (under the First, Fifth and Eighth
Amendments) were violated by the administration of disciplinary
punishment, Wright sought both money damages and injunctive relief.
The District Court dismissed the complaint without a hearing...

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