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Protecting Your Health and Safety: A Litigation Guide for Inmates

by Robert Toone, Southern Poverty Law Center, 2002, 328 pages

Review by Paul Wright

The bottom-line for most prisoners is surviving prison. That means staying healthy, getting medical care as needed in a safe environment and not being assaulted by prisoners and staff. Everything else-free speech, religious freedom, disciplinary hearings, etc., is incidental to surviving in the first place. Perhaps recognizing this prioritization of needs is why Protecting Your Health and Safety (PYHS) focuses primarily on medical issues, the right to be free from attack by prisoners and staff and basic conditions of confinement.

The author is a former staff attorney for the Southern Center for Human Rights in Georgia who has extensive experience litigating prison and jail cases. The book is written in a clear, straightforward style that is to the point and easy to understand. It focuses on enforcing the Eighth amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by getting adequate medical care, humane living conditions and protection from assault by staff and prisoners, via litigation in the federal courts.

PYSH begins with a very basic overview of prisoners' general civil rights in prison and then moves into a detailed discussion on the right to be free assault by staff, the right to adequate medical care (broken down by specific issues), protection from assault by other prisoners and humane conditions of confinement.

It then goes into a comprehensive explanation of the legal system. It explains the necessity of exhausting administrative remedies before filing suit in federal court as well as the remedies available once in court. It also has an up to date section explaining the Prison Litigation Reform Act and what it means for prisoner litigants. More significantly, it gives a detailed explanation on how to go about actually filing a suit, applying the law to a specific case, and each stage of the litigation process including the importance of conducting legal research before filing suit.

The book is packed with up to date case citations that will be invaluable to prisoners researching these issues. Even prisoners who do not plan to litigate a civil rights claim would benefit by reading this book because it gives a clear explanation of the bare minimum prisoners are entitled to as far as physical safety and health goes. People can't assert their rights unless they know what they are. Published in 2002, it is fairly comprehensive and up to date on these topics.

The book is published by the Southern Poverty Law center out of recognition that the legal needs of the American prison population overwhelm the meager resources available. Thus, the reality is that most legal claims have to be brought by pro se prisoners if they are going to be brought at all. PYSH is a good way to get a head start on that process.

PSYH is an invaluable addition to any prison law library as well as for the individual prisoner, litigant or not. It is very reasonably priced and highly recommended. To order, send $10.00 per copy, which includes shipping, to: Protect Your Safety and Health, Southern Poverty Law Center, P.O. Box 548, Montgomery, AL 36101-0548.

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