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A Jailhouse Lawyer's Manual, Fifth Ed. and 2002 Supplement

by Columbia Human Rights Law Review, 2002, 1,593 pages

Reviewed by Paul Wright

The law review staff at Columbia University in New York has published A Jailhouse Lawyer's Manual (JLM) since 1978. Now in its fifth edition, the JLM is an excellent resource, reference guide and how to manual for all prisoners interested in asserting their rights. It is also a useful quick reference guide for lawyers and other professionals looking for a good starting point in areas they don't normally practice in. While aimed at prisoners in New York State, the book is useful to prisoners in all jurisdictions and contains sections specific to federal prisoners and state prisoners in Florida and Texas. It is also very useful for pretrial detainees who have not yet been convicted of a crime or who are housed in jails.

Broken into 35 concise, well written chapters, the JLM covers all legal aspects of incarceration from challenging conditions of confinement to challenging the fact of imprisonment itself. It starts off with legal research, learning the law and finding a lawyer but more significantly it contains important chapters on how to interpret legal documents and obtaining information to prepare one's case, both with discovery in civil and criminal cases and through state and federal freedom of information act type statutes. It also gives a detailed explanation on how to appeal a criminal conviction and state and federal habeas processes and information specific to the death penalty.

Prisoners rights are broken down by topic such as medical care, disciplinary hearings, contact with the outside world, religious freedom, etc. Most significantly, unlike some other books of this type on the market which are a bit outdated at this point, the JLM contains a detailed explanation and description of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) and its requirements of administrative exhaustion and payment of filing fees.

Uniquely, the JLM contains specific chapters on the immigration consequences of a criminal conviction and possible remedies, as well as family law and the rights of incarcerated parents. It also has chapters on parole and temporary release programs and on specific issues affecting women prisoners, gay and lesbian prisoners, pre-trial detainees and prisoners with AIDS/HIV and tuberculosis.

While special attention is devoted to New York state remedies and appeals in criminal convictions, the JLM has chapters outlining habeas litigation in Texas and Florida state courts as well. The 2002 Supplement updates the Fifth Edition, which was published in 2000, and includes new chapters on plea agreements, ineffective assistance of counsel, interpreters, gang policies, using post conviction DNA testing to challenge a conviction, juvenile prisoners, disabled prisoners, sex offenders and rights after release.

The JLM is packed with sample letters and forms, addresses and resource information which make it an invaluable addition to any prison library or personal reference collection. It really is a Jailhouse Lawyer's Manual. The JLM: Fifth Edition with the 2002 Supplement is $43 for prisoners and $90 for non prisoners (includes postage). The supplement alone for those who already purchased the Fifth edition is $12 and $25, respectively. The JLM is highly recommended. To order, contact: Columbia Human Rights Law Review/JLM, 435 West 116th St, New York, NY 10027.

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