JLI Programs

JLI Resources: National Modules and New York Legal Foundations Course

Teams of currently and formerly incarcerated jailhouse lawyers, law students, and attorneys have co-designed holistic training programs that equips incarcerated students with legal education and empowerment skills to effectively advocate for themselves and their incarcerated community members. From engaging in legal advocacy to collecting data or building community within prisons — jailhouse lawyers are gaining the agency and skills to challenge their convictions, defend their parental rights, and demand improved conditions from within prison walls. Currently the JLI has text-based national modules members across the country, as well as a full 12 week course on legal empowerment and research foundations that is taught by law students in New York prisons.

Feminist Circles

Noticing a lack of women's voices in justice expanding initiatives, JLI decided to take action. JLI, along with national and international women organizers have been imagining how Feminist Circles can be a tool that we use to water, nourish and protect sisters inside as they grow and bloom and how we outside, like petals, can expand and connect these circles of women beyond prison and community walls. As the voices of women are cultivated and raised up, we hope that it will transform the conversations with our full membership, both men and women.

Pen Pal Program

To foster deeper connections between JLI members inside prison and the legal ecosystem outside prison walls, JLI launched a peer-to-peer pen pal program for law students and jailhouse lawyers in Fall 2022. Our goal is that the pen pal program will foster deep learning opportunities for law students and jailhouse lawyers, serve as a catalyst for collaborative action against injustice, and create new relationships of solidarity across the prison walls. Jailhouse lawyers are often great legal minds toiling in isolation - unable to bounce ideas off of peers, vent about frustrating case law, or discuss thoughts around developments in law or politics. Law students get to participate in these types of conversations regularly, but often exclusively with peers that share experiences of prestigious educational credentials, economic privilege, and upwards social mobility. JLI wants to create an avenue for these types of conversations to happen across the prison wall. We are excited to see how differing contexts and circumstances lead to different thoughts on approaches to law and justice, but also for participants to find points of connection and shared experiences.

UPL as a Human Rights Violation

In partnership with the Global Justice Clinic, the JLI is documenting the impact of unauthorized practice of law rules on jailhouse lawyers and their communities. We are training our members, organizing our communities and forming coalitions with other communities negatively impacted by UPL. Our goal is that the regulation of the legal profession would not be an unnecessary barrier to the work that jailhouse lawyers do to defend the rights of their communities when they return home.

Past JLI Events


Tuesday, March 16th 2021

Clemency is a tool relied on by incarcerated people to gain release from unjust prison sentences. Hosted by NYU Law's Bernstein Institute and Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) in partnership with the Legal Empowerment and Advocacy Hub (LEAH), this panel explored how jailhouse lawyers and justice-impacted people have led movements for freedom through clemency. The event featured formerly incarcerated human rights defenders, Jhody Polk, Jason Hernandez, Alejo Rodriguez, and Monique Baker who shared insights on clemency as a tool of legal empowerment and a pathway to freedom at the state and federal level. Panelists reflected on the role and power of narrative in the clemency process, shared insights on how jailhouse lawyers are on the frontline of this justice work, and discussed ways for attorneys and law students to be better partners and allies in achieving justice from the inside out.

Legal Empowerment is Abolition

Wednesday, February 19th 2020

Legal Empowerment is Abolition was a panel hosted by NYU School of Law’s Bernstein Institute for Human Rights and the Legal Empowerment and Advocacy Hub (LEAH), and co-sponsored by NYU Law's Prison Reform and EducatioN Project (PREP). The panel, featuring LEAH's founder and Soros Justice fellow, Jhody Polk and other formerly incarcerated advocates and scholars, highlighted the national and international legal empowerment movement and how it connects to Jailhouse Lawyers and prison law libraries within the United States.

Legal empowerment is the belief that impacted communities must lead their own struggle for justice. This panel explored how the cycle of legal empowerment – a process of knowing, using, and shaping laws - can destroy the cycle of incarceration. Too often, the abolitionist movement relies on voices outside of the prison walls. The program reflected on the ways incarcerated folks have obtained freedom from the inside out through the legal empowerment of the incarcerated, their families, and communities.

Within These Walls - Seeking Justice from the Inside Out

A Jailhouse Lawyer Initiative Art Project

We must no longer identify with terms like "inmate" or "criminal". We are human beings. We are U.S. citizens. This is why I frequently use the term Incarcerated Citizen. We may be incarcerated, but we are still citizens of this country, and we do have rights. We must never forget that, and never be afraid to enforce those rights. When we begin to think of ourselves as incarcerated citizens instead of "offenders" we start to realize that the injustices we face on a daily basis are not normal, not warranted..

Within These Walls - Seeking Justice from the Inside Out is an art project that creates a platform for jailhouse lawyers to describe their lived experience in their own words. Featuring portions of letters from currently incarcerated jailhouse lawyers from across the United States, Within these Walls highlights different aspects of the legal empowerment cycle. Starting with challenges faced by individuals within the carceral system, moving on to the ways that individuals have been using knowledge to shape the system, and ending with examples of people achieving empowered outcomes. 

The letters were shared in response to a call from Jhody Polk asking jailhouse lawyers to share their struggles and dreams for seeking justice from the inside out.

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