Prison Reform: Ruiz v. Estelle
In 1972, Texas prison inmate David Ruiz filed a fifteen page handwritten civil rights complaint against the Texas Department of Corrections Director, W.J. Estelle, Jr. In his complaint, Ruiz alleged that he was confined under unconstitutional conditions, harassed by prison officials, given inadequate medical care, and subjected to unlawful solitary confinement. Ruiz’s complaint was consolidated with the suits of seven other TDC inmates to become Ruiz v. Estelle. Judge Justice requested the United States Department of Justice appear as amicus curiae in the case. Six months later, the Justice Department filed a motion to intervene. The trial, which began in October 1978, lasted a year with 349 witnesses testifying. Judge Justice’s decisions in the case resulted in a complete overhaul of the Texas prison system.
Judge Justice’s April 1981 consent decree obligated the Texas Department of Corrections to alleviate overcrowding, increase the number of guards and support staff, furnish adequate health care, and to meet state health and safety standards for both living and working environments in the prison facilities. Additionally, the decree appoints a special master for the case. Typically, a special master conducts investigations, holds hearings, makes findings of fact, and suggests recommendations to the court.
Not all state officials opposed Judge Justice’s ruling. In particular, some were grateful for the pressure Judge Justice brought to bear in the effort to reform the Texas prison system. Bob Bullock was the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts when he wrote these letters of support to Judge Justice.