New York, August 11 – Today the Center for Constitutional Rights, in partnership with the National Lawyers Guild, launched an interactive website to supplement the release of the Fifth Edition of the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook (JLH)—a free legal resource for prisoners and their family members who wish to learn about legal options to challenge mistreatment in prison. The Fifth Edition of the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook was fully revised and updated to reflect changes in the law, and includes new sections on the rights of transgender and intersex prisoners (written in collaboration with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project), the rights of immigration detainees, and access to prison visitation.
“Updating the resource is critical,” said Alissa Hull, Co-Chair of the National Lawyers Guild’s Prison Law Project, “because in many prisons around the country, the Handbook is the only available up-to-date legal material. Facilities are eliminating law libraries altogether or limiting access to just one hour weekly. Inmates write to let us know how important the Handbook is in their efforts to seek redress for constitutional violations by correctional officers."
The JLH explains legal options for prisoners, including how to file a lawsuit in federal court to challenge abuse by guards or unsafe conditions. Since its initial publication in 2003, demand for the handbook has grown substantially; both CCR and the NLG provide copies to several thousand prisoners every year. The self-help publication explains the court system, shows methods for legal research, and summarizes prisoners’ constitutional rights.
Among the groups who may benefit from the new edition of the Handbook are transgender prisoners. Said Chase Strangio of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, “We hear from hundreds of transgender individuals in detention each year who write without any access to legal representation, resources or community support. The physical violence and prolonged isolation that transgender individuals face while in detention is staggering.”
The updated handbook comes in the wake of a February 25, 2011 settlement in Virginia where prison officials had placed the book on a “disapproved publications list.” Under the terms of the settlement the Virginia Department of Corrections has agreed to remove the book from the disapproved list and has verified that the book will be made accessible to all prisoners.
“Over and over again we see corrections officials attempt to block prisoners from getting the help they need and deserve,” said Rachel Meeropol, Center for Constitutional Rights staff attorney and co-editor of the JLH. “We will continue to work with jailhouse lawyers and prison advocates to fight this repressive trend, and to make meaningful the fundamental right of access to the courts.”
Hard copies of the Fifth of Edition of the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook will be distributed widely to prisoners and prisoner’s rights groups. The Jailhouse Lawyers website is aimed at broadening the ability of family members and friends of prisoners to access JLH materials. The new website has an on-line version that is entirely web based, allowing a user to browse easily through the lengthy resource, and quickly identify the most pertinent information.
The handbook can be accessed at www.jailhouselaw.org
. A paper copy of the JLH is available upon request by writing to the following address: Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook c/o The Center for Constitutional Rights 666 Broadway, 7th Floor New York, NY 10012.