Ruiz v Estelle
David Resendez Ruiz is the man who filed the now popular Ruiz v Estelle lawsuit that contributed to a number of changes in the prison system of America. He was a Mexican-American and son of migrant farm-workers who originated from East Austin, Texas. He was also the last born in a family of thirteen children. Growing up, Ruiz was a naughty boy who started getting into trouble with the law from an early age. He was arrested for shoplifting and fighting as a young child, but the direction of his life changed most when he got arrested for car theft. This was a time when he was only twelve years of age. His sentence for this crime was to serve time in one of the state schools in Gatesville. This was a very unfortunate event in Ruiz’s life since this did not help in rehabilitating him. This is because, at the school the boy socialized and mixed with hardcore students at the school. While leaving the school, Ruiz was considered an adult in the Texas penal system since he was seventeen years of age (Monthly, pp.153).
After leaving Gatesville School, Ruiz was involved in another car theft incidence. This time round he was sentenced to serve time at the Texas Department of Corrections. While there, he attempted to kill another inmate whom he believed was planning to kill him. During his time at the correctional facility, he had also committed several other lesser infraction that got him punished far too many times. After leaving the correctional facility, he married Rose Marie with whom they had a baby girl. Thirteen months after leaving the Texas Department of Corrections, he was placed again into custody this time for illegally possessing a gun. In his defense, he said that he had picked the firearm since he had no education to enable him acquire a good employment to support his family. Later on, he was sent to the Eastham Unit in Houston where he participated in a failed escape attempt. Tired of working in the fields, he decided to cut his Achilles tendon with a razor. It was during his time at Eastham Unit that Ruiz decided to become a prison activist. He was later sent to the Wynne unit as a result of his many disciplinary contraventions. It was at this unit where he met Fred Cruz. The two filed several lawsuits against the Texas Department of Corrections.
Ruiz and a number of his friends brought a class action claiming that, the prison conditions in Texas violated prisoners’ constitutional rights. This was the Ruiz v Estelle suit. This became the most extensive lawsuit dealing with the issues concerning prison incarceration in the United States history (Marquart and Ben, pp.558). The class action involved a number of protracted reviews and litigation over a long period of time. The case commenced in 1972 and saw the district court tasking itself with a supervisory role that mandated them with the task of overseeing the prison conditions in Texas. Subsequently the court ordered the parties involved to negotiate with the aim of ending the court’s supervisory role. It was only after twenty years that the court withdrew from supervisory of most of the areas, except the overcrowded ones (Marquart and Ben, pp.558).
Ruiz’s intervention came at a time when the state of Texas correctional system was a real mess. The levels of violence, including deaths at the hands of fellow inmates was on the rise. There were a lot of incidences reported concerning prisoners being assaulted and shot by prison officers. Incidences of rape, physical and racial abuse were also on the increase. The situation then was pathetic since both the prison officers and the prisoners as well were living in a state of fear of assault. In the 1980s, during the time when the court had taken responsibility of overseeing the prison conditions, deaths at the hands of fellow inmates was now on a record high. This was partly attributed to the expansion of prisoners’ rights and the outcome of the legislation that was passed to address prisoners’ rights claim. This piece of legislation together with the supervisory role of the Court had limited the powers of prison officers. The ability to use of prisoners to control their other inmates had also been limited as this was a major issue in Ruiz v Estelle (Easton, pp.101).
It is true that some inmates felt secure with the passing of this legislation. However, the unfortunate thing was that, it had created enough room for gangs within the prison facilities to take over the controlling role (Easton, pp.102). A report by the Commission on Safety and abuse pointed out a number of violence prevention strategies which, they believe can and should be used. These included better supervision, more recreational facilities and oversight of prisons, family and community support, frequently obtaining relevant information necessary for support, and use of force as the last resort. However, more importantly what is required is a transformation of prison culture to enhance mutual respect between prison officers and prisoners. An enhanced protection of the vulnerable and the mentally ill is also necessary (Clear, George & Reisig, pp.110).
The Ruiz v Estelle suit is the most extensive lawsuit that dealt with the issues concerning prison incarceration in the United States history. The case saw the district court tasking itself with a supervisory role that mandated them with the task of overseeing the prison conditions in Texas. Since then laws have been passed and a number of amendments made to make the prison conditions less abusive of prison rights. However, a lot of challenges still face the prison systems in America, and much more has to be done to save the situation. Better supervision, more recreational facilities and oversight of prisons, family and community support, frequently obtaining relevant information necessary for support, and use of force as a last resort as the report by the Commission on safety and Abuse suggest may not be enough.
Clear, todd, Cole George and Michael reisig. “American Corrections.” Belmont: Thompson
Easton, susan. “Prisoners’ rights.” New York: Routledge, 2011.
Marquart, James W. and Crouch Ben. “Judicial Reform and Prisoner Control.” The Impact of
Ruiz v. Estelle on a Texas Penitentiary (1985): 557-586 .
Monthly, Texas. “Texas Monthly.” Texas: Emmis Communication, 1985.