Doctrine of sovereign immunity

It was not until recent years that state and local governments could be sued due to the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The doctrine of sovereign immunity stated that a governing body of its representatives could not be sued because it made the laws in the first place (Schmalleger and Smykla, 2020). Even while confined in prison, inmates still have civil rights. Federal and state prisoners can file lawsuits with the federal courts stating that their civil rights have been violated by correction officials (Schmalleger and Smykla, 2020). However, not all cases brought to court by inmates are a violation against their rights and at the end of the Prisoners’ Rights Era, courts had become less sympathetic to prisoners’ claims, as many were frivolous lawsuits (Schmalleger and Smykla, 2020). In order to protect correctional officers changes were made at the state and federal level which have slowed the number of case prisoners have brought against officers (Schmalleger and Smykla, 2020). The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act was changed in 1980 which forces a prisoner to use all means necessary at the state level before a writ of habeas corpus can be filed at the state level (Schmalleger and Smykla, 2020). It can be challenging to sue government officials for allege misconduct and one hurdle that must overcome in order to do so is the qualified immunity doctrine that shields the government official from lawsuits unless the defendant’s conduct violated a right constitutional, or the right was clearly established at the time the misconduct took place (Lass, 2018).


Lass, Z. (2018). Lowe V. Raemisch: Lowering the Bar of the Qualified Immunity Defense. Denver Law Review, 96(1), 177-201.



Sovereign immunity is an English law based on a common law principle that the King could not do any wrongdoing, and this law applies to state and federal governments (“Sovereign Immunity,” n. d.). Therefore, sovereign immunity says that the federal and state government cannot be sued without their permission (“Sovereign Immunity,” n. d.). The reasoning behind this law was that if the individuals who made these laws should not be compelled by it (Schmalleger and Smykla, 2020). The federal and state governments can waive their right to sovereign immunity through the Federal Tort Claims Act, which put aside federal immunity for certain wrong claims (“Sovereign Immunity,” n. d.). The Westfall Act says that a feral worker cannot be prosecuted while employed. Some states have complicated laws that have prohibited immunity through governmental action.

Inmates can sue correctional officers. However, the inmate must prove lawsuit. The correctional officer and the correctional institute must prove that they followed proper procedures and obeyed to policies, and that each staff member was well supervised and prepared (Cornelius, 2016). In addition, sovereign immunity does not preclude an injured private citizen from suing a state officer and acquiring an order that the officer stop conduct that breaks federal law (“Sovereign Immunity,” n. d.). In 2016, President Barack Obama signed a law to protect federal correctional officers, which is called the Eric Williams Correctional Officers Protection Act, which says that Bureau of Prisons must give non-lethal pepper spray to guards in medium to high security prisons, so they have a way to defend themselves (“Obama Signs,” 2016). In addition, some states have adopted federal liberty practices such as good faith and reasonable belief principles to protect specific officers (Schmalleger and Smykla, 2020).). There was a short case of Ali v. Federal Bureau of Prisons where Ali sued the prison and the correctional officers; However, the courts held that the correctional officers are federal employees and are immune from that type of lawsuit (Schmalleger and Smykla, 2020).


Cornelius, G. (2016). How corrections officers can avoid being sued by an inmate.

Obama signs Correctional Officers Protection Act into law. (2016, March 10). The Daily Item.

Schmalleger, F., Smykla, J. O. (2020). Corrections in the 21st century (9th ed.). McGraw Hill Education

Sovereign immunity. (n.d.).

Sovereign immunity law and legal definition. (n.d.).

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