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 legal empowerment and research foundations that is taught by law students in New York jails and prisons.

JLI has created the following National Legal Empowerment Modules:

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.

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. JLI drafted and submitted a request for a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The submission was cited in the The Promise of Legal Empowerment in Advancing Access to Justice for All, a report published by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Margaret Satterthwaite.

Read the full submission here.

Joint Submission to the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission

In February 2024, the Jailhouse Lawyer Initiative (JLI) and members of the National Lawyers Guild-Prison Chapter (NLG-PC) in Texas co-submitted a report to the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission -- a Commission that performs reviews of state agencies to assist the Texas legislature --  in advance of its review of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) for the 2024-25 cycle. The report's key recommendations urge TDCJ to ensure humane prison conditions and reduce the Texas prison population through changes to the parole system. The NLG-PC co-authors of this comment are currently incarcerated jailhouse lawyers living in TDCJ prisons who have expertise in the law and serve as a bridge between the Texas legal system and the community of people in TDCJ prisons who are heavily impacted by decision-making in the courts and the legislature. This joint NLG-PC/JLI submission represents an opportunity for directly impacted people, lawyers, and institutions to partner together to reimagine approaches to justice.

Read the full report here

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.

(PDF: 892.85 KB)