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Making the TDC Come of Age What Ruiz Could Mean By Kevin Krajick New York Two years ago, when a federal court declared the entire Tennessee prison system unconstitutionally cruel, Tennessee officials flew to Texas to find out what Texans were doing right that they were doing wrong. But with the Dec. 12 ruling of U.S. Dist. Judge William Wayne Justice condemning many aspects of Texas prisons, the meaning and effects of prison litigation nationwide must be examined anew. Ruiz v. Estelle, the case against the Texas Department of Corrections stitutional prison litigation that has overtaken many state prison systems in the last 10 years. Many punishing conditions which were routinely accepted as the lot of imprisoned criminals now have been declared cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The major prisons of at least 19 states have come under sweeping court orders to eliminate poor conditions and scores of local jails also have fallen under the power of the federal judiciary. Strong legal precedents have established the courts’ powers to intervene in the operations of the prisons and set up standards for living conditions. The major focus of many of these suits has been overcrowding. The state’s prispns now hold nearly 30,000 prisoners more than the federal prison system and many other state systems combined. In his 249-page Ruiz decision [Obs., Jan. 16] Judge Justice said overcrowding pro duced “a malignant effect on all aspects of inmate life at TDC.” But there were other defects in the Texas system. Justice also attacked brutality by guards and inmate “building tenders,” lack of trained staff, inadequate medical care, disregard of due process rights at disciplinary hearings and harassment of prisoners who have sued to improve conditions. Legally,Ruiz breaks little new ground. Most of the concerns voiced by Justice have been examined in detail in other suits, and constitutionally acceptable conditions have been laid out. Texas will be forced to follow these precedents. Yet, corrections experts see Ruiz as a landmark. “The case is important because Texas is the largest system in the country, and it’s been looked upon as a THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5