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ABA Wants Pro Se Litigation Info

The Bureau of Justice Assistance has awarded the American Bar Association a grant to develop a technical-assistance manual to limit the burdens of pro se prisoner litigation while maintaining prisoners' constitutional rights. The manual will include an assessment of the burdens which pro se inmate litigation is placing on courts, correctional officials, and state attorneys general and provide recommendations to alleviate those burdens without undermining prisoners' constitutional rights. Chapters in the manual will, at a minimum, discuss the following areas: (1) the use of technology; (2) partial filing fees; (3) legal assistance programs; (4) early-case-evaluation hearings and other efficient case management processes and screening mechanisms for pro se prisoner litigation; (5) administrative remedies; and (6) model forms.

In gathering information for this project, project staff have solicited, and are receiving input and ideas from, prisoner assistance organizations, DOC directors, state attorneys general, and a number of courts. They are also inviting feedback from prisoners themselves. In particular, the following information would be helpful:

1. Comments and observations about the kinds and amount of burdens which pro se prisoner litigation is placing on courts, correctional officials, and the attorney general in your state.

2. Comments and observations about the benefits, if any, stemming from pro se prisoner litigation.

3. Comments and observations regarding the effectiveness of measures taken thus far in your state to limit the burdens of pro se prisoner litigation. (For example, is the administrative grievance process effective? Why or why not?)

4. Your suggestions as to additional measures which can and should be taken to limit the burdens of pro se prisoner litigation while ensuring that prisoners' constitutional rights are protected.

5. Examples of cases in which prisoners' claims were initially deemed frivolous but in which the prisoners later prevailed once an attorney became involved in the case. Include the case citations or case names, docket numbers, and the name of the courts in which the cases were filed.

6. Comments and observations regarding whether and the extent to which the assistance of jailhouse lawyers can provide other prisoners with "meaningful access" to the courts.

7. The reason or reasons why more prisoners in your state do not turn to the state courts for redress.

8. Sample forms that would be helpful in the preparation or processing of pro se prisoner lawsuits.

9. Your thoughts on the pros and cons of replacing prison law libraries with "some minimal access to legal advice and a system of court-provided forms," an idea recently mentioned by the Supreme Court in Lewis v. Casey.

10. Written descriptions of, or the identity of, any model programs and procedures developed in the country to limit the burdens of pro se prisoner litigation which you would suggest we study.

11. Any other recommendations concerning pro se prisoner litigation or other relevant information, including anecdotal information, which you believe should be considered in the course of this study.

The input that project staff receive from PLN readers will be extremely helpful in ensuring that the technical-assistance manual is balanced, accurate, and truly helpful in limiting the burdens of pro se prisoner litigation while protecting prisoners' constitutional rights. Please send the requested information to Lynn S. Branham, Institute of Government and Public Affairs, University of Illinois, 1007 West Nevada Street, Urbana, IL 61801.

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