Violations of the constitutional rights of prisoners have required court action in 19 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation says.

In addition, major prisons are under legal challenges in 11 other states, according to the project's annual status report.

Project executive director Alvin J. Branstein, in releasing the report last Friday, termed it "a devastating revelation about . . . American society . . ."

The report gives this summary:

Court orders intended to relieve overcrowding or other conditions that deny constitutional rights have been issued in connection with the prison systems of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Tennessee.

Similar court orders have been issued in connection with Maryland's two state penitentiaries, which have been ruled unconstitutionally overcrowded, and one or more state prisons or reformatories in Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Wyoming, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Constitutional challenges to prison conditions are pending in Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Washington.

District of Columbia jails are under a court order involving overcrowding and other conditions, and Vermont's state prison is closed.