Legal resources for people in prison in California

Prison Law Office

General Delivery

San Quentin, CA 94964

Serves: CA

Focus area/description: The Prison Law Office provides free legal services to California state prisoners, and occasionally to California state parolees. Assistance is generally limited to cases regarding conditions of confinement. Further, the office does not typically assist or represent prisoners in lawsuits in which money damages are the primary objective. Instead, the office focuses on cases in which a change in conditions is sought. The office attempts to resolve such cases informally, if possible (by advocating to prison officials), or through formal litigation. With regard to condition of confinement matters, the decision to assist with any particular case depends on the issue or problem presented, the chance of success, the amount of time and resource necessary to properly assist, the office's resources, staff availability and caseload. The Prison Law Office publishes and periodically updates The California State Prisoners Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Prison and Parole Law. Click here for Ordering Information. The Prison Law Office is also happy to provide self-help and informational materials to prisoners, some of which are published on their website, including a habeas corpus manual, parolee rights manual, and personal injury lawsuit packet, as well as material regarding administrative remedies, divorce, guard brutality, immigration, loss of personal property, plea bargains, release dates, workers' compensation, and worktime credits. If you or a family member believe the Prison Law Office can assist with one of the above issues, please feel free to contact their office. Letters concerning individual prisoners and prison conditions can be addressed to: Prison Law Office General Delivery San Quentin, CA 94964. Due to the large number of inquiries, the Prison Law Office cannot accept telephone calls from prisoners and their families.

Prison Law Office confirmed this listing on June 23, 2014.

ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Southern CA

1313 West Eighth St., #200

Los Angeles, CA 90017

(213) 977-9543 (no collect calls please)

Serves: CA

Focus area/description: The ACLU of Southern California works to preserve and guarantee the protections of the Constitution's Bill of Rights. It aims to extend these freedoms to segments of our population who have traditionally been denied their rights, including people of color; lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered people; women; mental-health patients; prisoners; people with disabilities; and the poor.

ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Southern CA confirmed this listing on June 24, 2014.

ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of San Diego & Imperial Counties

P.O. Box 87131

San Diego, CA 92138-7131

619-232-2121 x240

Serves: CA

Focus area/description: The ACLU is a non-profit, non-partisan, public interest organization devoted exclusively to protecting the basic civil liberties of all. The mission of the ACLU is to assure that the protections of the Bill of Rights are preserved and expanded. The ACLU of San Diego handles civil rights matters arising in San Diego and Imperial Counties only.

Lawsuits can affect a large number of people in two ways. First, we sometimes challenge a policy which directly impacts many people. Second, a lawsuit brought on behalf of one person can have a larger impact on others when it establishes or expands legal protections. We do not take criminal cases of complaints about a person's attorney in criminal cases. Only in limited instances, for example, when a person is being prosecuted for engaging in an activity protected by the Constitution — such as participating in a political demonstration — de we consider accepting criminal cases.

The basic questions we ask are:
1) Is this a significant civil rights issue?
2) What effect with this case have on people in addition to our client?
3) Do we have the necessary resources to take this case?

Please mail ALL requests for legal assistance.

ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of San Diego & Imperial Counties confirmed this listing on June 28, 2014.

These national resources may also be of help to people in prison in California:

Equal Justice Initiative

122 Commerce Street

Montgomery, AL 36104

(334) 269-1806 fax

(334) 269-1803 phone

Serves: National,AL

Focus area/description: EJI litigates on behalf of condemned prisoners, juvenile offenders, people wrongly convicted or charged with violent crimes, poor people denied effective representation, and others whose trials are marked by racial bias or prosecutorial misconduct. EJI works with communities that have been marginalized by poverty and discouraged by unequal treatment, and serves the state of Alabama and the Deep South in general, working nationally on selected issues. EJI also prepares reports, newsletters and manuals to assist advocates and policymakers in the critically important work of reforming the administration of criminal justice.

Equal Justice Initiative confirmed this listing on June 23, 2014.

Prison Law Project - Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook

National Lawyers Guild

132 Nassau Street, RM 922

New York, NY 10038

(212) 679-2811 fax

(212) 679-5100 phone

Serves: National

Focus area/description: This Handbook is a resource for prisoners who wish to file a Section 1983 lawsuit in federal court regarding poor conditions in prison and/or abuse by prison staff. It also contains limited information about legal research and the American legal system.

The Handbook is available for free online to anyone: prisoners, lawyers, families, friends, activists and others. To download it, go to: If requesting a Handbook by mail from the National Lawyers Guild, two dollars ($2) is requested, but not necessary, to help cover postage costs. Stamps are accepted.

If you are unable to download the Handbook and would like to receive a copy via mail, please write to:

National Lawyers Guild
132 Nassau Street, RM 922, New York, NY 10038


Center for Constitutional Rights
666 Broadway, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10012

Please note it may take a several weeks to deliver the Handbook due to a shortage of staff and resources. It is usually much faster to download the Handbook from this site and print it yourself.

PLEASE NOTE: This organization does not have the resources to give legal advice or representation, and will not respond to mail regarding these issues. Please send only orders or comments about the JLH itself.

Prison Law Project - Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook confirmed this listing on June 18, 2014.

Human Rights Defense Center

Prison Legal News

P.O. Box 1151

Lake Worth, FL 33460

(561) 360-2523 phone

Serves: National

Focus area/description: The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) publishes Prison Legal News, a monthly magazine (for incarcerated people, $30/year; for others see website) that reports legal developments and news surrounding prisons and jails and prisoner rights. HRDC also publishes and distributes litigation manuals, law and self help books. HRDC also challenges prison and jail conditions via litigation, typically on free speech issues. For details contact: Prison Legal News, P.O. Box 1151, Lake Worth, FL 33460, (561) 360-2523,

Human Rights Defense Center confirmed this listing on July 28, 2014.

A challenge to our colleagues:

We built the internet's first always-up-to-date list of legal services for incarcerated people. Can you make a similar list for a different kind of resource?

Problem: There are too many outdated resource lists floating around.

Our Solution: Have one resource list that one organization checks each year.

Our Method: Inspired by the Cincinnati Books for Prisoners group, we made a list of every legal services organization on every resource list we could find. Then we send a letter by snail mail to each organization each year asking them to confirm/update their listing. If they respond, we include them on the site for the next 365 days. All the organization needs to do is to sign the form we send them and mail it back in the enclosed envelope. If they don't respond, we keep them on our mailing list and try again next year.

This way, any incarcerated person using the list can be assured that the organization they are writing to recently did exist and was responding to mail. And if an organization fails to respond for some reason (staff turnover, postal problems, the dog ate our letter, etc.) they get another chance next year.

It's a win for everyone. We've built a database for legal services. What list can your organization edit?

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