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Prisoners' Right of Access to the Courts - The Impact of the Federal Judiciary on the Texas Department of Corrections

NCJ Number
J C N Boettner
Date Published
241 pages
Court decisions bearing on inmates' right of court access promulgated by Federal courts having jurisdiction over the Texas Department of Corrections are examined in their impact.
Under court decisions, Texas prison officials cannot constitutionally withhold, destroy, or censor legal mail sent or received by inmates. Further, they cannot punish inmates for resorting to legal action, deny them access to materials for legal research, or erect barriers for indigent prisoners. Finally, unless there is an adequate legal assistance program for all kinds of litigation, 'no inmate mutual assistance' rules are unconstitutional. The existence of such court decisions, however, does not mean that inmates will be treated accordingly, since prison officials may not comply with the decisions. In Texas, prison authorities have responded to the decisions by establishing a legal assistance program and sponsoring another, as well as by rescinding the rule prohibiting mutual assistance. On the other hand, inmates contend that the attorneys employed by the Department of Corrections are controlled by and responsible to the prison officials. They also maintain that inmates who frequently file legal petitions, the 'writ-writers,' are harassed, threatened, and abused. Independent evidence shows such allegations are often true. In order to counter evasion tactics by prison administrators and ensure the enforcement of right of access decisions, closer supervision of Texas prisons may be required. Appended are letters and letter excerpts from inmates alleging official interference with their right of access to the courts, samples of inmate-written legal petitions, and characteristics of prison inmates in 25 States as of 1968. A bibliography (ca. 50 references) is provided, and 150 cases are cited. (Author abstract modified)


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