Virginia Sued for Banning Jailhouse Lawyer Handbook

Yesterday, two civil rights groups sued the Virginia Department of Corrections for banning the use of one of their publications by prisoners.  The book is titled Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook:  How to Bring a Federal Lawsuit to Challenge Violations of Your Rights in Prison.  The publication is a free resource for prisoners and their families to help them understand their legal options  It can be downloaded at this link.

The Virginia Department of Corrections banned the entire publication claiming that the content “could be detrimental to the security, good order, discipline of the facility, or offender rehabilitative efforts or the safety or health of offenders, staff, or others.”

The mentality behind the ban is fairly obvious.  Jailhouse lawyers make life difficult for prison officials and their lawyers.  But the ban makes no sense and it is shortsighted.  Plaintiffs’ attorney notes that “[t]his effort to prevent prisoners from challenging the conditions of their confinement in court is not only patently unconstitutional, it drives them to find extralegal means to resolve their disputes . . . .” [Source]  Siouxsie will translate:  Banning books is not the answer.

Maybe it is slightly counterintuitive, but this publication should be required reading for prisoners, not forbidden fruit.  Nothing will stop prisoners from filing lawsuits.  Even Virginia’s government can’t outlaw that.  The government would be better off with a prison population educated on how to properly use the legal system to resolve their grievances.  This is the entire point of our system.

A better approach would have been for Virginia to require prisoners to attach an affidavit to any suit they file swearing that they have read the handbook.  Perhaps just as unconstitutional as banning the book, but at least it would make sense.

A copy of the complaint is at this link.

Photo Credit:  Mark Strozier

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~ by siouxsielaw on July 22, 2010.

One Response to “Virginia Sued for Banning Jailhouse Lawyer Handbook”

  1. Banning a book on legal procedure is just wrong. If the book is really that bad and encourages prisoners to file false and frivolous claims, then Virginia should have just filed a bar complaint against the authors and publisher.

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