Features – Criminal Justice Resources: Prisoners’ Rights and Resources on the Web

Ken Strutin (JD, MLS) is an experienced law librarian, criminal defense attorney, and well-known writer and speaker. He is the author of The Insider’s Guide: Criminal Justice Resources on the Internet, and has lectured extensively about the benefits of using the Internet for legal research at national and local CLE training programs. Mr. Strutin also wrote ALI-ABA’s Practice Checklist Manual on Representing Criminal Defendants, and co-authored the award winning Legal Research Methodology computer tutorial, published by the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI). He has contributed chapters to several books and written many articles concerning knowledge management, legal research and criminal law. Mr. Strutin has taught courses in Advanced Legal Research and Law Office Management. He is also listed in Who’s Who in American Law. Currently, Mr. Strutin is the Director of Legal Information Services at the New York State Defenders Association and writes a column for the New York Law Journal.


This guide highlights resources about prisons, the people who occupy them, legal and social services for inmates and their families, issues related to incarceration and reentry, and human rights behind bars. The focus is on selected web resources and online publications.

Commissions Legal Services Physical Health Statistics
Conditions of Confinement Library Services Policy Research Support Services
Education Mental Health Prisoners’ Rights Voting Rights
Guides and Manuals News and Periodicals Prisons Women
Inmate and Prison Locators Organizations Reentry Bibliographies and Research Guides
Law School Clinics Parole Standards


National commissions have been created to investigate conditions and facilitate legislation aimed at reforming the prison system. And many states and local governments have established agencies to oversee their correctional facilities, and issue reports about their operations. More information on the national level can be found under Conditions of Confinement.

National Commissions

Selected State Commissions

Conditions of Confinement

The Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons conducted a national examination of the violence, sexual abuse, degradation, and other abuses occurring in prisons and jails across the country. Four public hearings were held over the course of a year. In 2006, they issued their final report, Confronting Confinement, with recommendations for improving and reforming the prison system, which included standardized reporting of violence and abuse, reinvestment in violence prevention programs, and expanding Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement to cover correctional facilities. The Commission was staffed and funded by the Vera Institute of Justice.

In addition to the work of the Commission, the following organizations have been monitoring and studying prison conditions in the United States, and around the world:

The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA), 42 USC § 15601, et seq., gave rise to the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. The Commission website makes accessible testimony taken at ongoing hearings along with updates about their work. The following sites provide resources on PREA and its implementation:

National Institute of Corrections

Bureau of Justice Statistics

Related Resources

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Prison societies and academic institutions devote resources to prison education through distribution of books and supporting course materials.

Guides and Manuals

Here are several excellent publications that provide information on legal research, inmate rights, pro se litigation, and resources for prisoners and ex-offenders.

Inmate and Prison Locators

The federal government posts a list of its facilities, and a locator to find particular inmates. Most states offer similar resources for their prisons and some jails. In addition to these directories, an individual state or county’s facilities can be found by searching the local government’s website or one of the national lists below for the appropriate department of corrections.

Law School Clinics

Many law schools have created clinics to provide representation for incarcerated persons who need assistance in post-conviction matters and prison-related cases.

Legal Services

These are directories and sites that provide information about legal services for prisoners and information on self-representation.

Library Services

The resources from national library organizations and others provide information on the issues related to serving this special population.

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Mental Health

The appropriate treatment of inmates with mental health issues has been the subject of much study and debate. This is a small selection of recently published materials and resources.

News and Periodicals

Stories about prison conditions and developments in the law affecting prisoners’ rights can be found in these specialized sources. Notably, there are some standout publications, such as the monthly magazine Prison Legal News, which provides excellent comprehensive coverage and analysis of prison issues. Their website includes a rich collection of resources and an extensive list of research links.


Law Reviews


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There is a broad spectrum of private, academic and governmental organizations concerned with the state of US prisons and the operation of the prison system. Many of them publish reports and studies on issues vital to prisoners’ rights and prison reform.


Here are some general sites concerning parole administration, more information can be found in the Reentry section.

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Physical Health

Health issues for people behind bars are a serious concern and have an impact on society at large. Here are a few national resources on this topic.

Policy Research

Many private, academic and governmental groups engage in research on prison and sentencing reform. They often conduct original research on the conditions of confinement or develop strategies to respond to current problems, such as overcrowding.

Prisoner’s Rights

Much of the literature and resources on prisoners’ rights have already been noted under other categories.


These sources concentrate on the unique concerns of prisons and correctional facilities related to placement, administration, and economics.


More than 600,000 former ex-offenders are in the process of reentering society. And governmental and private entities are beginning to provide much needed services to ease the transition and promote reintegration.


National and state standards exist for the administration and operation of prison and jail facilities.

National Standards

Selected State Standards


Criminal justice agencies, academic and some private organizations collect statistical information on prison populations, services and special issues.

Support Services

Many organizations exist that provide a variety of basic services to inmates and their families.

Voting Rights

The right to vote for persons behind bars has become the focus of studies, policy discussions and litigation nationwide.


Several organizations have devoted significant resources to the special issues facing women behind bars.

Bibliographies and Research Guides

Here are some extensive bibliographies, pathfinders, and collections of resources on prison related topics.

Posted in: Court Resources, Features, Internet Resources, Internet Resources - Web Links, Legal Research