BEYOND BARS: The Jailhouse Lawyer Initiative

Dear Defenders of Justice,

Are you currently assigned, or have been (during your current term of incarceration), to the law library as a certified law clerk in a state or federal prison within the United States? Are you known as a “jailhouse lawyer” at your institution? If you answered “Yes” to either of these questions, your voice is needed now!

The Jailhouse Lawyer’s Initiative was founded in 2018 by me, Jhody Polk, a 2018 Justice Advocacy Fellow and a former certified law clerk within the Florida Department of Corrections. The Jailhouse Lawyer’s Initiative is dedicated to the legal empowerment of jailhouse lawyers and enhancing the law clerk training program and law libraries in prisons throughout the United States. The initiative will work to meet three goals:

  1. Ensuring that the training law clerks receive is sufficient to aid them in the legal support that they provide through the law library. The initiative will also explore how to make paralegal training affordable and available to jailhouse lawyers during incarceration.
  2. Building in yearly continuing education courses for law clerks after certification and
  3. Creating an advocacy network that jailhouse lawyers can access after incarceration to find support with pursuing legal education, careers, and job opportunities after incarceration. The network will also connect jailhouse lawyers with community and social justice organizations within your community after incarceration.

As you can see, this initiative is for YOU and should be designed with and by YOU! We are just beginning and want to invite you to join us in the planning stage of how to meet our goals. We are currently identifying jailhouse lawyers to get your feedback on how we should be supporting you to support those inside. Please write to us at the address below if you are interested in sharing your experience, ideas, and voice on how legal empowerment should look at your institution in your state. Please let us know your work status, connection to the law library, length of sentence, and how long you have been providing legal support to incarcerated people during your incarceration. Please be sure to include your challenges, as well as needs and wishes for the law clerk program at your institution.

We are excited to welcome you to the team, as we are preparing to lift up one of the strongest, yet most forgotten pillars of every Department of Corrections… Jailhouse Lawyers!


Jhody D. Polk
The Jailhouse Lawyer Initiative
322 S.W. 4th Ave
Gainesville, Florida 32601