U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Jailhouse Lawyers and Jailhouse Lawyering

NCJ Number
International Journal of the Sociology of Law Volume: 16 Issue: 4 Dated: (November 1988) Pages: 455-475
D Milovanovic
Date Published
21 pages
Based on 3 years of participant observation in a large jail in the Northeast, this study examines jailhouse lawyers (an inmate who renders some legal service to fellow inmates with some degree of competence) and their lawyering, focusing on the relationship of the jailhouse lawyer to the legal structure.
After tracing the historical roots of jailhouse lawyering, this study identifies factors in an inmate's becoming a jailhouse lawyer. A jailhouse lawyer typically emerges as an inmate, finding his representation through legal aid to be lacking, uses the jail or prison law library to help meet his own legal needs. The expertise gained from this endeavor is subsequently used to help other inmates, and the jailhouse lawyer is born. The jailhouse lawyer typically works in a triad involving himself, the client inmate, and the inmate's professional attorney. Through the jailhouse lawyer, the inmate gains more control over his situation and the use of his professional attorney. Within a jail setting, the focus of jailhouse lawyering is in the broad areas of bail reduction, case dismissal or reduction of charges, and suppression hearings. Within the inmate subculture, jailhouse lawyering is governed by confidentiality in the client-jailhouse lawyer relationship and the inmate moral code, which determines whom the jailhouse lawyer accepts for a client. The status and power of the jailhouse lawyer in the inmate subculture rests on his ability to get things done for inmates. Jailhouse lawyers will continue to have a significant impact in reforming jails and prisons. 31 references.


No download available