ALBUQUERQUE — Dwight Duran, a former inmate whose landmark lawsuit on New Mexico prison conditions in 1977 led to sweeping reforms in the state's corrections system, has died. He was 68.

Duran died Tuesday. Friends said his health had been failing for some time.

Duran was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenged living conditions at the Penitentiary of New Mexico's Main Unit.

The lawsuit led to the Duran consent decree, a list of requirements that governed living conditions for prisoners in New Mexico from shortly after the deadly riots of 1980 until a judge lifted most of the conditions in 1998.

Duran spent much of his early life in prison, starting when he was 16. Before his death, he told the Albuquerque Journal he served a total of about 16 1/2 years for charges including robbery, larceny and forgery.

When he filed the lawsuit in 1977, he was serving a four-year sentence for forging a $35 check. He was released from prison 12 days before the bloody riots that broke out in February 1980.

After that, Duran returned to prison only as an advocate. With a self-taught knowledge of the law, he spent the rest of his life advocating for improved prison conditions, both in New Mexico and nationally.

"Many prisoners who experience unfairness while they're incarcerated vow to fight for improvement of the system when they're released. Dwight actually did," said attorney Ray Twohig, who represented Duran in the original case.