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New Prisoners' Self Help Litigation Manual

Reviewed by Paul Wright

The Prisoners' Self Help Litigation Manual (PSHLM) by Dan Manville first appeared in 1983. It was designed to give prisoners an overview of the legal system, a basic overview of what their rights are and guidance on how to actually litigate a suit in federal court. The book went on to become enormously popular with jailhouse lawyers and in many court access cases it became a required part of prison law library collections. The second edition came out in 1986. As the years passed the book became somewhat dated in that the law pertaining to prisoners' rights was rapidly changing. Now, the third edition is finally available.

The latest edition, written by Manville and John Boston, is substantially improved over previous editions, with much larger sections on prisoners' substantive rights. It discusses the relevant case law pertaining to all aspects of prison life: beatings, sanitation, food, clothing, medical care, censorship, disciplinary hearings, personal safety, use of force, segregation, access to the courts, religious freedom, visiting, searches, property and much more. If you are a prisoner, even if you don't plan to file a lawsuit yourself, reading this book will be a valuable experience. If you don't know what your rights are you can't seek help on enforcing them.

Most books dealing with prisoners' rights merely state what those rights are and leave it up to the reader to figure out how to enforce them. This is where the real value of the PSHLM comes in. This book gives an explanation of the legal system, different types of actions (i.e. civil rights, tort, habeas corpus, workers compensation, etc.), suing the right defendants, choosing a remedy, class action suits, and defenses prison officials are likely to raise. Then it gets down to the nitty gritty: how to actually file a suit in court and litigate it step by step all the way through the court system. It also contains a section on writing legal documents and conducting legal research.

Over the years we have been asked why PLN doesn't run articles telling prisoners how to file suits, do legal research and basic litigation. Our response is that we try to remain an original source of information and there is little point in reprinting the same information already available in a much better format, namely this book. If you want to know how to enforce your rights this is the book for you. While the focus of the book is on prisoners and their rights I would strongly recommend this book to any non-attorney who is seeking an explanation of what all those fancy legal terms, procedures and such mean. If you are a free citizen too poor to afford counsel, this book will give you the basic information you need to research, file and litigate a lawsuit on your own. It has dozens of example forms, briefs and motions. Even attorneys, especially those with clients in jails or prisons, will find this book to be an invaluable quick reference, especially when an imprisoned client asks that age old question "can they do this to me?"

I came to prison in 1987 and shortly thereafter realized I needed to know what my rights were and how to enforce them I bought my first copy of the PSHLM in early 1988 for $16.00. I still have it and it's well worn, I definitely got my money's worth from it. If you can only afford to buy one legal book this should be it. Every prisoner should have a copy of this book, to go along with their PLN subscription of course. The book also lists publications of interest to prisoners/ a prisoners' assistance directory and recommended collections for prison law libraries.

The PSHLM is 1088 pages in length. It is extensively footnoted and well organized. My only complaint is that the chapters are not listed on the pages and the case and subject index does not list page numbers. In other words it could be a little more user friendly. But given the overall quality of the book this is a minor complaint. Prisoners should urge their law libraries to purchase the latest edition for their collection. Highly recommended. Copies cost $29.95 for prisoners (includes shipping) and $39.95 (plus shipping) for non prisoners. Contact: Oceana Publications, 75 Main St. Dobbs Ferry, NY. 10522. (914-693-8100)

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