- The Wall Street Journal;
- USA Today;
- The Guardian (which caustically mentioned that Harvard Law School student debate team lost to prisoners months after winning a national title among law schools);
- US News;
- Washington Post
- prisoners had years of experience on the college kids;
- they had to overcome hardships in preparation - prison security prohibitions on learning materials such as Internet-based databases and law research;
- prisoners, according to one of the participants prisoners in the debate, worked towards a goal to show their worth to society;
- Harvard students were taken by surprise by the prisoners preparedness and "unanticipated position", in other words, there is an implication that Harvard law students, very possibly, were too uppity to properly prepare for a debate with such a lowly opponent as convicted prisoners, and it always is a bad strategy to underestimate the strength of your opponent
The discriminatory reach of the 3-strikes bar to civil rights actions by prisoners starts at detention of a presumed-innocent accused, not with conviction.
28 U.S.C. 1915(g) provides:
"In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal a judgment in a civil action or proceeding under this section if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury.
Furthermore, under 28 U.S.C. 1915(h):
" (h) As used in this section, the term “prisoner” means any person incarcerated or detained in any facility who is accused of, convicted of, sentenced for, or adjudicated delinquent for, violations of criminal law or the terms and conditions of parole, probation, pretrial release, or diversionary program.
Given the fact that courts regularly dismiss even represented civil rights actions as part of their policies and based on court-invented bars to jurisdiction, it is a matter of time when a prisoner is adjudicated as having filed 3 "frivolous" pro se actions in court and is permanently barred from any relief against unconstitutional actions of the government, putting a bull's eye for further government abuse on his or her head.
I was exposed to what was going on in the prison system of the State of New York when, while still a law student, I had an academic externship and then volunteered, for Prisoners Legal Services of New York, a non-profit protecting prisoner's rights (at least some of them).
When I told my professor of Advanced Criminal Law who was previously the Commissioner of New York State Department of Corrections appointed to clean up the system after the notorious Attica riot, that prisoners in New York are starved as punishment, he got excited to the point of accusing me of lying. I will give credit to his no less famous integrity when the next day he came back, told me that he verified my words, had them confirmed and apologized.
New York does starve prisoners as punishment, as do other states. Prisoners punished by "the loaf" wrote to us in Prisoners Legal Services, reported dramatic, health and life-threatening loss in weight, and all we could do is file administrative appeals for medical releases from solitary where that "loaf" was "administered".
- no, we do not handle habeas corpus proceedings;
- no, we do not handle criminal appeals;
- no, we do not handle motions to vacate criminal convictions based on new evidence;
- no, we do not handle claims of unlawful solitary confinement unless you are put into it for more than 18 months (!)
Note what a prisoner convicted of manslaughter said to the reporter after winning the debate against a team of privileged kids, Harvard law students: that prisoners may lack in rhetoric, but make up in hard work.
And their law libraries where there are no online Westlaw databases, where they have to learn the As and Bs of legal research through books, from scratch, which is time-consuming, but prisoners have time, and they use it.
Well, time has come where 80% of Americans cannot afford services of licensed attorneys.
Yet, there is an untapped resource who, maybe "lack in rhetoric", but makes up by hard work and determination, to the point of being BETTER than the best of the best of American law students.
Loss of liberty does not constitute loss of a right to earn a livelihood.
Prisoners who trained themselves in the law, as well as anybody else who did that, should be able to provide legal services to people.
That will be fair.
That will close the "justice gap immediately".
Representation by such "jailhouse lawyers" will be no worse, and actually better, than representation by privileged and politically entrenched people with eyes on political career and not on meeting their clients' needs, even in raising challenging issues.
But, to tap into prisoners as a resource of legal services, prisoners must be protected from repercussions for such services that can often involve stepping on toes of government and suing governmental officials for misconduct.
And, notwithstanding whether prisoners are or are not a valuable resource of legal services to other people, discriminatory statutes:
Prisoner Reform Litigation Act, with its 15-day statute of limitations for constitutional violations;
Anti-terrorism and "Effective Death Penalty" Act, with its cut off of possibility of exonerations for wrongfully convicted condemned prisoners;
The 3-strikes act putting a permanent bar on protection of prisoners against constitutional violations by the government, even after they beat all odds of PRLA, and applied in a biased and arbitrary fashion by the courts -
all of these "beauties" of discrimination against prisoners should go, along with death penalty, prolonged solitary confinement and starving prisoners as punishment.
After all, we are the beacon of freedom and democracy for other countries of the world.
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