Tag Archive: Center for Constitutional Rights

What It Takes To Be a Jailhouse Lawyer


‘For $12 of Commissary, He Got 10 Years Off His Sentence.’


From The Marshall Project / By Beth Schwartzapfel

In 1980, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals vacated Jerry Hartfield’s murder conviction and ordered a new trial. But the trial never happened. Twenty-six years later, Hartfield crafted a handwritten petition arguing, essentially, he was serving time for a crime he was no longer convicted of. The person who helped him craft the petition? His cellmate, a jailhouse lawyer. It took almost ten years, but it worked: Hartfield’s new trial started this week.

“Jailhouse lawyer” is an informal term for a prisoner who helps other inmates with legal filings. And in most places, the help is just that: informal. Though the term is occasionally used synonymously with “hack” (“a lawyer who throws out any and all arguments, even blatantly wrong ones,” according to Urban Dictionary), jailhouse lawyers have been at the heart of several key legal victories: the right to an attorney, the right to be protected from abuse by other prisoners and by guards, and the right to free exercise of religion. In his book Jailhouse Lawyers, Mumia Abu-Jamal, perhaps America’s most well-known jailhouse lawyer, described the practice as “law written with stubs of pencils…law learned in a stew of bitterness, under the constant threat of violence, in places where millions of people live, but millions of others wish to ignore or forget.” (more…)

Previously-Secret Prison Docs Show Constitutional Violations in Experimental Prison Units


Daniel McGowan

Daniel McGowan

“This is the press release sent out by my attorneys at the Center for the Constitutional Rights regarding previously unseen documents about the Communication Management Units (CMUS) aka Lil Gitmo, run by the Bureau of Prisons. The documents reveal just what I have been saying since the day I got to the CMU in 2008-that myself and my former plaintiffs were sent there due to our political speech. A huge summary judgement motion brief was just filed and the protective order on these documents were lifted for the first time. We are asking the judge to rule on the case in our favor, with all that we have presented. The suit was first filed in April 2010 by CCR on behalf of myself and other CMU detainees. Despite my status as a released prisoner (and having been dismissed off the lawsuit by the judge for this reason), I maintain that political prisoner units are important to fight on multiple fronts. There are men in the CMU (and women at the FMC Carswell Admin Max unit) from our movements and many in need of support.” —Daniel McGowan

View all the documents in the CCR’s summary motion here.

For more information on Daniel’s case, see his article, “Court Documents Prove I Was Sent to CMU For My Political Speech.”

Docs Confirm Lack of Due Process in Communications Management Units, Attorneys Say

from Center for Constitutional Rights

April 23, 2014, Washington D.C.For the first time, hundreds of documents detailing the Bureau of Prisons’ process for designating prisoners to controversial Communications Management Units (CMUs) are public. The documents had been under a protective order in the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) lawsuit, Aref v. Holder, since CCR filed the case in 2010. (more…)