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Note From the Editors


This handbook is a free resource for people in prison who wish to file a federal lawsuit addressing poor conditions in prison or abuse by prison staff.

It also contains limited general information about the United States legal system. This handbook is available for free to anyone: prisoners, families, friends, activists, lawyers and others.

We hope that you find this handbook helpful, and that it provides some aid in protecting your rights behind bars. Know that those of us on the outside are humbled and inspired by the incredible work so many of you do to protect your rights and dignity while inside. As you work your way through a legal system that is often frustrating and unfair, know that you are not alone in your struggles for justice.

Good luck!

Rachel Meeropol signature
Rachel Meeropol
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Ian Head
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Chinyere Ezie

The Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook, 6th Edition.
Revised in 2021. Published by:

The Center for Constitutional Rights
666 Broadway, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10012


The National Lawyers Guild,
National Office
P.O. Box 1266
New York, NY 10009

Available on the internet at:

Cover art by Kevin "Rashid" Johnson

Layout and design by Emily Ballas

We would like to thank:

All of the jailhouse lawyers who have sent comments, recommendations, and corrections for the handbook, all those who have requested and used the handbook, and who have passed their copy on to others inside prison walls. Special thanks to Mumia Abu-Jamal for his continued support of the JLH.

The original writers and editors of the handbook (formerly the NLG Jailhouse Lawyers Manual), Brian Glick, the Prison Law Collective, the Jailhouse Manual Collective, and Angus Love. Special thanks to Carey Shenkman for his work on the 2021 revision and to Paul Redd, John Boston, and Alexander Reinert for their review of this edition. 

Thanks to Claire Dailey and Lisa Drapkin, for administrating the mailing program at CCR and NLG.

The dozens of volunteers who have come to the Center for Constitutional Rights and National Lawyers Guild offices every week since 2006 to mail handbooks to people inside prison, especially Merry Neisner, Torie Atkinson, Dena Weiss, Miriam Edwin, Magaly Pena, Damian Van Denburgh, Nora Chanko, Perri Fagin, Clare Spitzer, and Daniel McGowan. Additional thanks to all those who contributed to the new State Appendix, along with Alice S. and Daniel L. who contributed to Appendix J.

Jeff Fogel and Steven Rosenfeld for their work defending the handbook in Virginia.

This handbook was written by Center for Constitutional Rights staff. The information included in the handbook is not intended as legal advice or representation, and you should not rely upon it as such. We cannot guarantee the accuracy of this information nor can we guarantee that all the law and rules inside are current, as the law changes frequently.