books, these inmates must request them for delivery to their cells. An inmate may order books twice a week and may receive up to 3 books for each request.
The law library has only one copy of each law book, and consequently, requested volumes frequently are unavailable due to the great demand and limited supply. The law library also maintains a file of photocopied cases but has only one copy of each case available. Inmates can request as many copied cases as they need and may keep the copies for 30 days.
The library staff also provides a case citation research and verification service (commonly known as "Shepardizing") for restricted housing inmates. In response to an inmate request, the staff will provide a handwritten list of cases that refer to the Shepardized case. In light of the number of requests and lack of computerized legal research, inmates may have to wait several weeks for a response. One inmate testified that he has waited for up to 8 weeks before receiving the results of a Shepardizing request.
Although the Commonwealth does provide indigent inmates with counsel in postconviction hearings, see Pennsylvania Public Defender Act, 16 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 9960.6; Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 9543, it does not provide restrictive housing inmates with legally trained persons to assist them in filing civil rights actions.
Prison administrators do not provide an opportunity for restrictive housing inmates to discuss their legal matters with other inmates. Moreover, opportunities for written communication are almost non-existent. Indeed one inmate testified that "jailhouse lawyers" (inmates self-taught in law) may speak with other restrictive housing inmates only in the exercise yards.
To obtain assistance from jailhouse lawyers, inmates must communicate by passing letters or legal documents to a corrections officer, who then conveys the materials to a lieutenant for review. If the lieutenant permits, the corrections officer may deliver the materials to the other inmate. The officers do not follow any apparent standards in deciding when to forward legal materials. According to one inmate, few corrections officers agree to transfer legal materials to other inmates.
An inmate jailhouse lawyer in self-lockup testified that corrections officers do not allow self-lockup inmates to talk to each other or to pass legal materials among themselves. He stated that, as a result, inmates smuggle their papers to jailhouse lawyers.
Another self-lockup inmate testified that although he receives requests from illiterate inmates for legal advice, he may not talk to them about their cases. He suggested that the tables located in the pods of the restrictive housing units be reserved for inmate conferences with jailhouse lawyers.
B. Legal Analysis
Prisoners have a well-established constitutional due process right of access to the courts. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821, 52 L. Ed. 2d 72, 97 S. Ct. 1491 (1977). It is fundamental that access to the courts for the purpose of challenging confinement, conditions of confinement or violations of civil rights may not be denied or obstructed. Id. at 827; Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483, 485, 21 L. Ed. 2d 718, 89 S. Ct. 747 (1969).
This right of access places upon prison authorities an affirmative duty to assist inmates in preparing legal papers, either by 1) providing adequate access to law libraries, 2) providing assistance from legally trained persons, or 3) providing some combination of both. Bounds, 430 U.S. at 828. Moreover, states may not prohibit inmates from furnishing legal assistance to other inmates. Johnson, 393 U.S. at 490; Bryan v. Werner, 516 F.2d 233, 236-37 (3d Cir. 1975). See ACA, standard 2-4326 (Supp. 1988) ("When an inmate is unable to make meaningful use of the law library alone, additional assistance necessary for effective access is provided.").
Although the right of court access is not absolute and may be curtailed to accommodate institutional security interests, Bounds, 430 U.S. at 830-31, the burden rests with the state to demonstrate the adequacy of the methods it chooses in extending this right. Buise v. Hudkins, 584 F.2d 223, 228 (7th Cir. 1978), cert. denied, 440 U.S. 916, 99 S. Ct. 1234, 59 L. Ed. 2d 466 (1979).
Plaintiffs contend that Clinic inmates and restrictive housing inmates are denied meaningful access to the courts. Under Bounds, the narrow issue that we must consider is whether the Commonwealth offers these inmates meaningful court access by either affording acceptable law library use or providing legally trained persons to assist the inmates. See Peterkin v. Jeffes, 855 F.2d 1021, 1041 (3d Cir. 1988) (inmates alleging denial of access to courts do not have to demonstrate actual injury other than denial of access).
As previously noted, the Commonwealth does not enable these inmates to communicate with legally trained persons for assistance in filing civil rights actions. Under Bounds, we must thus decide whether Clinic and restrictive housing inmates are provided adequate access to the law library.
Although the Constitution does not guarantee a prisoner unlimited use of a law library, the Commonwealth must afford reasonable time in the library. Lindquist v. Idaho State Board of Corrections, 776 F.2d 851, 858 (9th Cir. 1985). Prison officials may regulate the time, manner, and place in which law library facilities are used but in doing so may not deny meaningful access. Twyman v. Crisp, 584 F.2d 352, 358 (10th Cir. 1978).
We find that Clinic inmates are not given adequate access to the law library. At any time, several hundred inmates reside in the Clinic. Due to the enormous population of Clinic inmates and the limited law library time allotted for them, a Clinic inmate may have, at most, 4 hours a month of law library time. Even experienced legal researchers would have difficulty conducting useful research with such limited availability.
SCIP therefore does not permit Clinic inmates meaningful access to the courts.
Restrictive housing inmates may not even visit the law library. They may obtain law books only by a book paging system, a substantial disadvantage. First, inmates must know initially which volumes they need. However, it may take several requests for case digests before they target relevant case citations.
Second, unavoidable and lengthy delays are inherent in such a system. The process of ordering and returning books, compounded by hindrances in obtaining Shepardizing results, drastically prolongs legal research. Inevitably, inmates may have to wait several weeks for a volume because 1) many inmates desire to procure law books, 2) the number of books are limited to one set of each reporter and one photocopy of each case, and 3) the seminal criminal law cases are constantly in demand. Thus, some inmates likely are prejudiced by a reduced opportunity to complete research before court filing deadlines.
We share the concerns of other courts that have examined a denial of access to trained legal assistance in conjunction with access to a law library offered solely through a book paging system.
In Morrow v. Harwell, 768 F.2d 619, 623 (5th Cir. 1985), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that a bookmobile-style distribution system without an accompanying legal assistance program was inadequate under Bounds. The Morrow court stated:
In the absence of some sort of direct legal assistance, which need not be by trained lawyers, the inmates must be given access to a library as required in Bounds. That access is not met by a system allowing a prisoner to check out books through a weekly bookmobile. The Federal Supplement, the Federal Reporter and the Supreme Court Reporter today consist of a total of approximately fifteen hundred volumes. Even a quick research project by a trained lawyer may require reference and cross reference to numerous volumes. Such a task would be impossible to complete with no legal assistance and only the limited library program presently in place.