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A Network for Critical Analysis of Law and Economic Inequality
ClassCrits X Program
Strategies For Launching and Operating A Non-Traditional Teaching Law Clinic: Lessons
Learned from the Prisoner Advocacy Network
Sonoma State University
510 277 2025
In 2004 the American Bar Association (ABA) called upon law schools to “establish clinics in
which students may gain both understanding and experience in representing those who have
committed crimes and are imprisoned as a result.”i The ABA “urges that laws schools establish
clinics to assist convicted person with legal issues related to their reentry into the community.”
Law schools did not heed the call. However, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) did.
Incarcerated leaders of California’s 2011 and 2013 prisoner hunger strikes and their family
members asked the NLG to fill needs inadequately addressed by law schools or organizations
that largely focus on class action litigation or provision of form guides, as opposed to individual
advocacy. The NLG launched the Prisoner Advocacy Network, and today it operates a clinical
law teaching program training volunteer activists and legal professional to provide legal services
to people in solitary in California’s prisons.
Of the approximately 252 law schools, only eight have dedicated prisoner’s rights law clinics
(three percent). A similar dearth of prison law curriculum plagues non-clinical podium courses.
Only two case method textbooks cover this topic.
Since 2004 scholars across law, gender, criminology, sociology, geography, economics, and
epidemiology have increased publication across topics related to the criminal legal system’s
mass-incarceration and its increasingly punitive conditions.ii Many prison law scholars and
practitioners write about substantive doctrinal prison law developments.iii A number of scholars
focus specifically on California and its solitary confinement landscape.iv
However, scholars and practitioners are not publishing methodological studies evaluating how to
assist incarcerated people to exercise evolving rights and remedies. Inadequate scholarship exists
with regard to integrating inter-disciplinary research on prison law into a curriculum. The current
law journal cannon on prison law teaching methodologies is extremely limited. Leading authors
are limited to Taja-Nia Y. Hendersonv, Sharon Dolovichvi, Laura Rovnervii, and Giovanna Shay.viii
Their publications barely scratch the surface of potential interdisciplinary approaches to issue
spotting, research, constitutional and administrative rights and liberties framework, remedies,
and enforcement mechanisms. Beyond that, there is a need for education around the political and
social context of mass incarceration for law students and lawyers.
Entirely absent from law journals are articles that propose methods for educators teaching prison
law in a non-academic law clinic setting. No publications examine the unique considerations of
staffing an individual-representation focused law clinic with volunteers both trained in the law
and untrained in law school pedagogies and methodologies. Scholarship is needed on best
practices for educating clinic participants in (a) knowledge and understanding of substantive and
procedural law; (b) legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, problem-solving, and written
and oral communication in the legal context; (c) exercise of proper professional and ethical
responsibilities to clients and the legal system; and (d) other professional skills needed for
competent and ethical legal advocacy. This publication aims to start filling the gap.
This piece will explore how PAN conducts non-litigation advocacy for and with people
experiencing long-term solitary, and how and why it’s model is frequently shifting. Under the
supervision of mentor attorneys, Advocates are paired with incarcerated Correspondents to
identify specific challenges, frame them as legal issues, provide legal analysis, and draft
demands for remedies. PAN builds networks and trains people to understand the unique issues
that people incarcerated in solitary face. It uses a socio-legal approach to teach them to navigate
the administrative, legal, bureaucratic political, and ethical issues that surround advocacy within
the California Department of Corrections. A deep understanding of issues unique to CDCR
solitary practices is brought forward to help Advocates to understand the context to most
effectively engage in issues that PAN commonly addresses. Our unique contribution is the use of
a one-on-one partnership model in which individuals outside of the prison work closely with
individuals inside prison to develop an advocacy strategy to address specific unmet needs.
PAN’s direct support for incarcerated activist “Correspondents” as well as legislative and policy
efforts strengthen anti-solitary movements on the inside and their corollaries on the outside.
These movements continue to lack free and accessible attorneys, as well as prison law education,
training, and skill capacity building.
This publication will share lessons learned in launching and operating a volunteer-run prison law
teaching clinic outside the law school setting. It will offer vignettes and narrative describing the
experience of participants behind and outside the walls.
i Justice Kennedy Comm'n, Am. Bar Ass'n, Report to the House of Delegates, Recommendation 10 (2004) available
ii Michelle Alexander,Gabriel Arkles, Hadar Aviram, Dan Berger, Dennis Childs, Jeffrey Fagan, Ruth Wilson
Gilmore, Marie Gottschalk, Bernard Harcourt, Victoria Law, Marc Mauer, Joan Petersillia, Andrea Ritchie, Austin
Sarat, Jonathan Simon, Dean Spade, Bryan Stevenson, Loic Wacquant, and Frank Zimring.
iii Margo Schlanger, Trends in Prisoner Litigation, as the PLRA Enters Adulthood, 5 U.C. Irvine L. Rev. 153 (2015).
iv Reiter, K. 23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement. (New Haven: Yale
University Press). Reiter, K. “Reclaiming the Power to Punish: Legislating & Administrating the California
Supermax, 1982-1989,” Law and Society Review, Vol. 50.2: 484-518 (2016). Reiter, K. “Supermax Administration
and the Eighth Amendment: Discretion, Deference, and Double-Bunking, 1986-2010,” University of California
Irvine Law Review, Vol. 5.1: 89-152 (2015). Reiter, K. & N. Pifer. “Brown v. Plata,” Oxford Handbooks Online in
Criminology and Criminal Justice, Michael Tonry, ed. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015). Reiter, K.
“The Pelican Bay Hunger Strike: Resistance within the Structural Constraints of a U.S. Supermax Prison,” South
Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 113.3: 579-611 (2014). Reiter, K. “Parole, Snitch, or Die: California’s Supermax Prisons
and Prisoners, 1987-2007.” Punishment & Society, Vol. 14.5: 530-63. (2012). Reiter, K. “The Most Restrictive
Alternative: A Litigation History of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons, 1960-2006.” Studies in Law, Politics and
Society, Vol. 57: 69-123 (2012).
v Taja-Nia Y. Henderson, Teaching the Carceral Crisis: An Ethical and Pedagogical Imperative, 13 U. Md. L.J.
Race, Religion, Gender & Class 104 (2013)
vi Sharon Dolovich, Teaching Prison Law, 62 Journal of Legal Education 218 (2012).
vii Laura Rovner, The Unforeseen Ethical Ramifications of Classroom Faculty Participation in Law School Clinics,
75 U. CIN. L. REV. 1113 (2007).
viii Giovanna Shay, Inside-Out As Law School Pedagogy, 62 J. Legal Educ. 207 (2012)