Back to top

Do I need to have a law library in my jail?

ZenDeskID: 
69758684

Question:
I want to know if I need to have a law library in my jail. What kinds of issues should I consider? What information do I need?

Answer:
Like so many issues in corrections, the answer is: it depends. The point is not necessarily having a law library, but rather providing reasonable access to legal materials and the courts.

Nothing below is a recommendation or opinion from NIC. What is provided is information and resources so you can make an informed decision concerning how inmates at your facility can have access to legal materials and the courts - which can include a law library in the jail itself.

If there are prevailing state jail standards or relevant case law in your jurisdiction, you will need to meet those concerning access to legal materials and access to courts. Absent that, you might want to consider the American Correctional Association (ACA) Adult Local Detention Standards as well ACA's Core Jail standards as a basis for your policies. Here are the two relevant standards:

ACA standard 4-ALDF-6A-03 (Accreditation standards)

"Inmates have access to a law library if there is not adequate free legal assistance to assist them with criminal, civil, and administrative legal matters. Inmates have access to legal materials to facilitate the preparation of documents"

ACA Standard 1-Core-6A-03 (Core Jail Standards)

"Inmates have access to legal materials"

You will want to consider what the courts have said. Take a look at the following:

"Jails and the Constitution: An Overview"

NIC publication authored by William Collins

Text from page 68:

"Over the years the Supreme Court decided several access to the courts cases involving inmates. The most important came in 1977, when the Court said that prison administrators have the affirmative duty to provide inmates with assistance or resources to allow them to meaningfully exercise their right of access to the courts, Bounds v. Smith. Assistance could take the form of persons trained in the law (such as lawyers, paralegals, or law students), adequate law libraries, or some combination of these. A 1996 Supreme Court decision dealing with access to the courts reaffirmed the core principle in Bounds, i.e., that the institution has an affirmative duty to provide some form of assistance (libraries or persons trained in the law) sufficient to give inmates the capability of filing non-frivolous lawsuits challenging their sentence or the conditions of their confinement, Lewis v. Casey."

"The principle from Bounds (and now Lewis) has been extended to jails, although application of the principle may be slightly different in the jail context depending in part on how long inmates remain in the jail. The longer an inmate remains in a jail, the more the right of “access to the courts” places the same demands on the jail as it does on the prison"
Document ID: 022570

Here are actual case law summaries:

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees state inmates the right to "adequate, effective, and meaningful" access to the courts. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 822, 97 S.Ct. 1491, 1495, 52 L.Ed.2d 72 (1977); Green v. Johnson, 977 F.2d 1383, 1389 (10th Cir.1992). We impose "affirmative obligations" on the states to assure all inmates access to the courts and assistance in the preparation and filing of legal papers. Ramos v. Lamm, 639 F.2d 559, 583 (10th Cir.1980), cert. denied, 450 U.S. 1041, 101 S.Ct. 1759, 68 L.Ed.2d 239 (1981). The Supreme Court instructs that states may satisfy this duty "by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law." Bounds, 430 U.S. at 828, 97 S.Ct. at 1498. Although this constitutional obligation does not require states to afford inmates unlimited access to a library, Twyman v. Crisp, 584 F.2d 352, 358 (10th Cir.1978), and there exists no rigid or static formula to assess whether a prison library's resources pass constitutional muster, Johnson v. Moore, 948 F.2d 517, 521 (9th Cir.1991), states must provide inmates with "a reasonably adequate opportunity" to present their legal claims.

In more understandable language:

"The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees state inmates the right to 'adequate, effective, and meaningful' access to the courts." Petrick v. Maynard, 11 F.3d 991, 994 (10th Cir.1993) (quoting Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 822 (1977)).

The guarantee of court access is satisfied "by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law." Bounds, 430 U.S. at 828.

 

Related resources:

Prisoners and Their Information Needs: Prison Libraries Overview

Sambo, Atanda S., Saliu A. Usman, and Nafisa Rabiu, 2017