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Copyright (c) 1994 American Association of Law Libraries
Law Library Journal


* (c) William D. Mongelli, 1994.

SPRING, 1994

86 Law Libr. J. 277


William D. Mongelli **


Mr. Mongelli presents a blueprint for implementing a course in self-directed legal research for adult prisoners, including an argument to prison law librarians about the benefits of the course, a discussion of inmate and staff attitudes toward law library research and their implications for successful implementation, ten research competencies, training for law librarians, and course logistics.
He who would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression: for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself

-- Thomas Paine

I. Prison Law Libraries: A Correctional Fact of Life

"Equal and meaningful access to the courts" is by now a common concept to correctional administrators and their librarians. The phrase elicits powerful emotions on either side of the correctional philosophical spectrum. Some correctional professionals feel strongly that convicted felons should not retain any civil rights once they have been sentenced behind bars. Conversely, the United States Supreme Court has held consistently that a policy of equal and meaningful access to the courts is guaranteed by no less an authority than the federal Constitution. 1 The wrongly accused and wrongly convicted can challenge their confinement, and the federal government provides a checks-and-balances system to make sure that corrections departments do not abuse the fundamental liberty interests of the incarcerated. 2

Regardless of our personal feelings, we as prison law librarians are duty-bound to carry out our responsibilities in an impartial manner, allowing institutional and departmental policies, 3
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