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Hot off the press this week is the sixth and latest edition of “A Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual,” the venerable self-help legal guide for prison inmates written and edited by Columbia Law School students — who see themselves, as well as their incarcerated readers, as beneficiaries of a unique publishing venture. “My colleagues are inspiring, and this just has so much purpose,” said Lisa Zeidner, 27, this year’s executive editor of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review, which publishes the manual. “The experience of putting this out has essentially been like running a medium-sized nonprofit company. It’s a business, after all. We sell books.” Sarah Stewart, 32, an editor at the commercial publisher W.W. Norton before enrolling at Columbia Law and becoming this year’s editor-in-chief of the law review, said of the experience, “It’s been a very different undertaking for me, something practical and real — as opposed to academic — and it’s been something that has direct impact.” Brooke Sealy, 25, the manual’s managing editor who plans a career in criminal defense, especially valued the utilitarian task of explaining law through common language. “Most prisoners don’t have access to lawyers and will file pro se,” said Sealy, like her two colleagues a third-year at Columbia Law School. “So our job is to explain the law in a nutshell, boil it down to a level where most prisoners can understand it — and use it.” With newfound entrepreneurial flare, Zeidner pointed to an enthusiastic plug for the manual from Thurgood Marshall, the late U.S. Supreme Court justice (see “Stamp of Approval”). She further touted “A Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual” as second only to the Holy Bible in requested reading matter among patrons of America’s prison libraries. Professor Philip Genty, faculty advisor to the student editors, would not be surprised if this was indeed the case. Since the manual’s first 10-chapter, single-volume edition was published in 1978, he noted, the nation’s prison population has increased fivefold. Budget cuts for legal services attorneys has greatly reduced prisoner-initiated lawsuits, he added, along with congressional passage of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, which tightened time limits on habeas petitions and forced greater reliance on administrative grievance processes. “The need for a self-help manual is even greater than it was back in ’78,” said Genty. “The law’s become a lot more complicated, with increased procedural barriers to litigation. We actually sell a lot of our books to lawyers for that reason.” SPANISH-LANGUAGE EDITION The last edition of the manual was published in 2000, with a supplement released in 2002. Along with the new sixth edition — now two volumes and 45 chapters — comes a first in the history of the manual: a Spanish-language companion. As top editors of the Human Rights Law Review, Zeidner, Stewart and Sealy were responsible for this innovation, said Genty, which answered a long-standing need. A Spanish companion was talked about in the beginning, he said, “but for various reasons, usually because of funding, we couldn’t do it. Now this group has made it happen.” Stewart said she and her staff called on Spanish-speaking students at Columbia Law for translation help, as well as some 20 private practitioners from firms around the country. “Growing up speaking Spanish and having the ability to translate law into Spanish are two different things,” said Stewart, an intern last summer at Bronx Defenders. “The translation was a huge project in itself.” As have previous classes of the manual’s editors, this year’s students also reached out for help and guidance to John Boston, director of the Prisoners’ Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society. Boston, who contributed a chapter to the latest edition on the topic of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, said, “This represents enormous effort and commitment from the students, yielding an enormous resource book for prisoners. I don’t know of any other self-help manual that comes out of a law school. Our involvement with Columbia has been time well-spent.” INVOLVING PRACTITIONERS Working relationships with the private bar and Boston’s project at Legal Aid did not exist when the manual was first published in 1978. “Now there’s a real connection with real practitioners,” said Genty, “which has made for a much better book and a very exciting networking opportunity for our students.” For the past eight years, said Genty, the manual has sold at the rate of about 1,000 copies annually. For inmates, the current price is $45 for both volumes — English or Spanish. Organizations, institutions and practitioners are charged $90. Buyers are encouraged to make suggestions for future editions by filling out a suggestion form printed in the manual. For the most part, prisoner feedback has expanded editions over the years to include topics such as the special needs of female, homosexual and juvenile inmates. This year, illustrations for the front and back covers of “A Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual” were selected by way of a competition among prison artists. “I am currently placed in solitary confinement, armed with a four-inch pen with a diameter smaller than that of a drinking straw,” wrote an artist in residence at the Upstate Correctional Facility in Malone, N.Y. “Your challenge provided a terrific distraction for me.”

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