Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Data on Texas' inmates access to the courts

I thought these 2008 data from TDCJ about prisoners' access to the courts were interesting, supplying metrics for broadly comparing in-prison writ writing activity to the level of outside legal representation for prisoners. In 2008 at TDCJ, there were:
  • 608,053 offender visits to law library sessions
  • 247,819 items of legal research material were delivered
  • 17,035 notary signatures were provided
  • 1,456 offender/offender legal visits were conducted
  • 1,314 attorney/offender phone calls were conducted
  • 527 court teleconference inquiries via phone were conducted
  • 81 court teleconference inquiries via video conference were conducted
  • 4,083 attorney visits were conducted
  • 969 attorney representative visits were conducted
  • 54,310 court forms were issued
  • 4,377 court certificates of impoverishment
Presumably the State Counsel for Offenders accounts for some of those attorney visits. Comparing the raw numbers of notary signatures provided to the number of attorney visits and phone calls, however, one gets the impression that inmates are doing the majority of their own legal work either pro se or with the help of a writ writer.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate the information provided by TDCJ about the inmates right to a "meaningful law library" but I just have to comment that it leaves me with so many more questions than answers.

I admit ignorance on the subject so please someone correct me if I have gotten the wrong impression but I wasn't aware that they employ law libraians at TDCJ.

I mean, I know that libraians are employed and that is through Windham School District. Not taking anything away from that but I believe it requires an entirely different skill set and provides an entirely different function.

I know that documents can be requested at cost through Texas State Law Library but still that really doesn't seem like fundemental equal access to me. Again, perhaps I have gotten the wrong impression.

I know that the area of legal research requires several upper level degrees, at least, if one plans on doing it for a living. And in most major universities a J.D. is also required. It's not so simple as pointing someone in the area of some legal texts and saying there you are, have a nice day.

Information is very easy to get if you know how and where to look, but my goodness I didn't know that one could pick it up through osmosis by being a resident of TDCJ. An inmate who knows a lot offering to help is just not quite the same thing.

Again, if I have gotten the wrong impression. I apologize.

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FairPlay said...

Each unit has a law library, but I do not know about "meaningful". There is a limited amout of material each library is required to have. There are not law libraians assinged to each unit. There is material that gives basic instruction how how to use the legal material. It is basically "cons helping cons" when it comes to imates learning how to use the legal material.

Anonymous said...

The two units where I have worked have very knowledgeable, helpful staff in the law library. Each unit has a law librarian and a Correctional Officer assigned to work in the law library. The COs who work in there are assigned permanently, meaning that they don't rotate positions. This is completely separate from the Windham library system.

Anonymous said...

And to clarify, by saying that "each unit has a law librarian and a Correctional Officer assigned to work in the law library" I meant on each of the units where I have worked, not each unit in the system. I have only worked on two, I can't speak for the entire state.

Anonymous said...

TDCJ's Law Libraries are very limited in what they have. The materials are out of date and the "librarians" refuse requests for assistance.

Inmate legal assistance is pretty limited. There is very little professional help available for criminal issues. Mostly family law (estates - child custody - divorce) type assistance if any at all.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals routinely rubber stamps the decisions of the lower courts.

It is a shame that all this "legal" work results in very little real justice.

sunray's wench said...

notary signatures are used for many more things than current or previous criminal court procedings.

Anonymous said...

When my husband asked his attorney to file an appeal, his attorney signed off on the case 30 days later leaving him to do his own foot work. He was promptly put to work smashing rock in Diboll. It speaks for itself there were 608,053 offender visits to the library but only 1, 456 offender/ legal visits. The garnering of an attorney is very difficult. The attorney I hired post incarceration did visit once. After reaching the Paper work road blocks and the excuse of "conflict of interest" from the previous attorney as to why he would not share information,he gave up. That "conflict of interest" statement sure told me alot about the quality of his hired attorney and the fact that the good ole boys club is still high on the hog in the TX legal system.

x684867 said...

As an ex-offender who served 10 years (1994 to 2004) I never had a problem getting access to the law library, except for a few clearly isolated incidents.

However, I did find that most offenders who had problems with access to courts really had problems due to a lack of education and communication skills that would be better addressed through access to the general library (which was virtually non-existent).

Various units had different levels of service for law libraries. Some units (such as Stiles Unit) had a real, objective professional staffing the law library. He always made sure his law library was maintained according to standard. Other law libraries (such as Ferguson) did their best to make law library access as inconvenient as possible--though they complied with the minimum legal standards.

For more information about my experiences in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, please see My blog. The earliest posts cover my prison days.