Note from the Editors:

This Handbook is a resource for prisoners 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 American 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 who do this work from outside prison are humbled by the amazing 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 struggle for justice.

Good Luck!




~ Rachel Meeropol and Ian Head


The Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook, 5th Edition. Revised in 2010. Published by:

The Center for Constitutional Rights
666 Broadway, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10012
The National Lawyers Guild, National Office
132 Nassau Street, Room 922
New York, NY 10038

We would like to thank:

All of the Jailhouse Lawyers who wrote in with 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 NLG Jailhouse Lawyer Vice President Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project for co-writing “Issues of Importance to Transgender Prisoners” in Chapter Two, and The ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project for helpful insights regarding “Issues of Importance for Women Prisoners.”

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. And special thanks to Alissa Hull and John Boston for significant work on the 2010 edition.

The dozens of volunteers who have come to the NLG offices every week since 2006 to mail Handbooks to prisoners, and to Claire Dailey, Merry Neisner and all the CCR staff, interns and volunteers who put in hours and hours of research, proofreading, cite-checking, and mailing.

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

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: This Handbook was written by CCR 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.