Tag Archive: jailhouse lawyer

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…)

Why Environmentalists Should Celebrate 25 Years of Prison Legal News


An interview with Paul Wright, editor of PLN and director of the Human Rights Defense Center, by a former Earth First! Journal collective member.

From Earth First! Newswire / By Panagioti

Prison Legal News was born the same year that the Earth First! was figuring out what it meant to support incarcerated warriors of the eco-defense movement, resulting from the Arizona 5 busts. Environmentalism and the prison industrial complex would be intertwined for Earth First! from that point on. The prison support pages of the Earth First! Journal would be a constant presence in the publication—going from a brief sidebar to a full-blown spread in the magazine with the spike in prisoners following the first Green Scare indictments in 2005.

As a resulting of EF! activists doing time in county, state and federal facilities across the US, the numbers of prisoner subscribers also began to rise steadily. Today there are now thousands of prisoners who have an Earth First! Journal pass through their hands. There are also many supporters on the outside who make donations explicitly for the purpose of keeping these prisoner subscriptions possible—being that very few prisoners are able to make enough on slave wages to pay full price for a subscription.