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Bar News - September 7, 2007

Five Things You Didn’t Know About the State Prison Law Library


Security is tight; chain link fences and razor wire line the horizon as video cameras watch every move. Buzzers sound, thick steel doors resolutely clang shut, and the drab gray and white institutional paint scheme pervades the senses. All the while, guards keep a watchful eye as inmates of the New Hampshire State Prison in Concord sit inside a corral of computers perusing the latest edition of the Lexis-Nexis digital law library.

Here are five more things about the NH State Prison Law Library that may surprise you:


1. The library hosted 326 inmates in June 2007.


The state prison law library is a regularly used asset for the inmates of the facility. Inmates are allowed two, three-hour visits to the law library per week and can request Internet access, though for security reasons, these requests are seldom granted. At the library itself, inmates can choose from numerous hard-copy texts as well as the Lexis Nexis system, which State Prison Librarian Becky Harding says inmates choose nine-out-of-ten times. The library is also stocked with necessary forms for filings in the courts.


2. The law library is not funded by taxpayers.


The law library is actually funded by the inmate recreation fund. Since access to a law library is not guaranteed under the constitution (see number three below), taxpayers are not required to fund it. The recreation fund is drawn from money that comes from various parts of the prison system where profit is generated by the inmates – phone call fees, the prison store, etc.

            Lexis Nexis, the online legal library service, costs the inmates approximately $32,000 per year.


3. The inmates are not guaranteed a law library by the US Constitution.


According to John Vinson, an attorney for the NH Department of Corrections, inmates are only guaranteed “access to the justice system” under the United States Constitution. Vinson says that this could be accomplished with one of two things: an up-to-date law library or a full-time inmate attorney who handles habeas corpus and condition of confinement matters.


The NH Department of Corrections actually has both a law library and an inmate attorney. And while Walter Pazdon, the inmate attorney for the DOC, only handles civil matters, he also provides prison inmates across the state with valuable insight into the workings of the justice system.


4. The Concord State Prison offers legal references in Spanish.


Twelve percent, 344 inmates, in the state prison population do not speak English as a primary language. The Spanish language law books provide a necessary asset for many of the inmates that speak English as a second language.


5. Each sector of the state prison system has its own law library.


Every section of the state prison in Concord – the library, the secure psychiatric unit, and the maximum security unit - has at least one Lexis Nexis terminal and other fundamental law books. Also, prisoners of the Laconia, Berlin, and the women’s prison have their own terminals, as well as their own individual library of law books. The computers are linked solely to the Lexis system and security measures ensure that inmates cannot access any other part of the Internet.


Editor’s Note: Keep an eye out for the next issue of Bar News, where we’ll offer a profile of the attorneys who work behind-the-scenes of the New Hampshire Department of Corrections.




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