Launch: Newly Expanded and Updated Edition of Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook

Launch: Newly Expanded and Updated Edition of Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook

Important Resource for People in Prison and Their Families Helps Them Challenge Conditions and Abuse

 August 16, 2021, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild launched the Sixth Edition of the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook (JLH)—a free legal resource for prisoners and their family members to mount challenges to mistreatment and abuse in prison and ensure access to crucial services and support. The Handbook is part of a rich legacy of inside-outside organizing, with a dedicated team of volunteers responding to thousands of requests for the handbook every year.

The new edition of the 184-page Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook was fully revised and updated to reflect changes in the law and includes an expanded section on the rights of LGBTQIA+ people and people living with HIV/AIDS in prison; a new appendix of grievance procedures and Prison Rape Elimination Act and LGBTQIA+ policies for certain states; as well as information about important substantive and procedural developments in the law since 2010, when the previous edition was published.

"In our system of mass incarceration, constitutional rights get trampled on with impunity. That's why jailhouse lawyers have never been more important. We're glad to offer this Handbook as a free resource to all the brave individuals fighting for their rights and dignity from the inside," said Chinyere Ezie, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-editor of the JLH.

Jailhouse lawyers play a crucial role in promoting and protecting the rights of people in prison and have been the driving force behind key legal victories that have mitigated the harms of incarceration. The JLH explains legal options for prisoners, including how to file a lawsuit in federal court to challenge abuse by guards or unsafe conditions, even more urgently needed in the time of COVID. First published in the 1970s, the self-help publication explains the court system, provides methods for legal research, and summarizes prisoners' constitutional rights. According to the JLH's authors, the law is purposefully opaque to keep lawyers and elites in charge–the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook demystifies prison legal issues and works toward democratizing the struggle against abuse in prison.

"The multitude of requests we receive from individuals inside who have faced unimaginable harms are seeking some form of justice, limited as that may be, and having the now updated version of the Handbook as a resource gives people practical legal information that for many is not accessible elsewhere," said National Lawyers Guild Membership Director Lisa Drapkin. "People have written to tell us how vital the first version of the Handbook was in their efforts at not only helping themselves, but sharing the knowledge with others as well."

Hard copies of the Sixth of Edition of the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook will be distributed widely to prisoners and prisoners' rights groups. The accompanying Jailhouse Lawyers website makes a searchable version available to family and friends of prisoners that allows users to browse the lengthy resource and quickly identify the most pertinent information.

The handbook can be accessed at A free paper copy of the JLH is available on request by writing to: Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook c/o The Center for Constitutional Rights, 666 Broadway, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10012 or National Lawyers Guild, P.O. Box 1266, New York, NY 10009.

The National Lawyers Guild was formed in 1937 as the first national, racially integrated bar association in the U.S. to advocate for the protection of constitutional, human, and civil rights.

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The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at


Last modified 

August 16, 2021