The Jailhouse Lawyer's Handbook

Updated 2021

[caption caption="Cover art by Rashid Johnson" align="right"][/caption]

Since 1974, the Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook has supported people who are incarcerated, their families, and advocates in challenging mistreatment and abuse in prisons. The Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild launched an updated and revised version of the free resource in August 2021.

Read the 6th edition of the Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook on our new interactive platform, or download a PDF version.

The Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook offers a rich overview of key steps one can take when crafting a lawsuit to improve conditions, mitigate abusive practices and policies, and ensure access to crucial services and support. Lawsuits are not the only way to challenge such issues, or necessarily the best way, but litigation can be a powerful tool. The Handbook aims to demystify legal issues and help democratize the struggle against prison abuse.

The 2021 edition of the Handbook includes:

  • an expanded section on the rights of LGBTQIA+ people and people living with HIV/AIDS in prison

  • a new appendix of grievance procedures as well as Prison Rape Elimination Act and LGBTQ+ policies for certain states

  • information about important substantive and procedural developments in the law since 2010, when the previous edition was published  

The Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook is part of a rich legacy of inside-outside organizing, and is anchored by a dedicated team of volunteers who respond to several thousand requests for the Handbook each year, and provides a Know Your Rights guide. We hope you will find it useful in your advocacy.

The Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook is available as a PDF and at You can request a paper copy through that website or by writing to the publishers:

The Center for Constitutional Rights 666 Broadway, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10012

The National Lawyers Guild, National Office, P.O. Box 1266, New York, NY 10009-8941




Last modified 

August 23, 2021