Longtime convict David Ruiz, 63, whose handwritten lawsuit more than three decades ago led to court-ordered prison improvements in Texas, died Saturday at the prison hospital in Galveston, a Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman said. He was serving a life term for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon and perjury, and most recently had been housed in a unit south of Huntsville.
Ruiz sued in 1972, alleging that Texas prisons were overcrowded and understaffed, with poor medical care and rampant violence that denied inmates their civil rights.
In 1980, after a nearly yearlong trial, U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice ruled in favor of Ruiz and ordered changes. The state Legislature passed laws to reduce the prison population, but by the mid-1980s the prisons were among the most dangerous in the country. Gang violence and fatal stabbings were routine.
Justice threatened the state with huge fines, and in early 1987 he found the state in contempt. Late that year, voters approved $500 million in bonds for prison construction, the first step in a building program that today includes more than 100 prisons housing an estimated 154,000 inmates.