Legal Counselling Behind the Walls

Published date01 April 1968
Date01 April 1968
Subject MatterArticles
in correctional study and practice, particularly in the sociological sphere.
This is because the individual rejected by society, removed from family,
friends, or neighborhood, and confined behind the high walls presents
a compelling reason for humane and modem thinking when aspects
of social welfare are considered.
What is not so easy to come by is knowledgeable assistance for
the prisoner who wants support for his contention that he is the victim
of unlawful or unjust arrest, trial and conviction. Other problems of
great importance to the man behind the walls often take the form of
legal questions, for example questions regarding the prisoner’s right to
have law books, to correspond with various people, to pursue certain
new religions, to be afforded protection if accused of crime while in
prison, to prosecute claims in court.
People at liberty outside the walls, respected members of society,
and healthy minds, have many interests. Every day is different in some
degree, new faces, new work to be done, new things to do evenings,
new things to shop for, new signs of development in children, or in
other growing forms. If a legal problem arises it takes only a propor-
tionate role in the varied existence of the person at liberty. In sharp
contrast, the prisoner has few of the features that make our daily
lives interesting and sometimes creative. He has been, probably with
good reason, taken from friends and family by judicial process. He
knows many prisoners have gained release through the courts. It is
likely nothing is as important as the opportunities for release, and this
enhances the role assumed by legal and judicial subjects. If the inmate
can have competent, interested legal counsel, he will have a profoundly
important need satisfied, thereby making him a better adjusted prisoner.
The lawyer who goes behind the walls to counsel inmates is help-
ing to relieve stress and doubt. Many prisoners request legal assistance,
but for only a few is there sufficient merit to their complaints to warrant
relief being granted by the courts. For the greater number the primary
benefit is giving an isolated, sometimes hopeless individual the con-
fidence that he is not totally forgotten by the courts and by the legal
community, and that when there is cause for relief from the courts it
can be sought and is likely to be forthcoming. It has been observed
before that to be truly civilized a society must be solicitous of the rights
of its rejected and isolated prisoners.
* Coordinating Attorney, Massachusetts Defenders Committee.

Particularly in recent years the inmate has with determination
pressed his claim to be recognized as entitled to certain rights. Such
claims have evoked varying...

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