"We The People" Legal Primer

Prison Book Program publishes “We the People Legal Primer” – a popular legal resource for prisoners. This comprehensive legal resource has become one of our most frequently requested titles. It includes a capsule legal dictionary, summaries of important precedents, an overview of the federal and state court systems, post-conviction remedies, instructions on how to file writs, motions, appeals grievances and more pro se, and practical guidance on conducting legal research. 

We the People Legal Primer + National Prisoner Resource List – Normal Font – 80 pages

PBP will be publishing a new free legal resource to replace the We the People Legal Primer in 2024. It will be available here for free when it is ready!

The Jailhouse Lawyer's Handbook

We also recommend “The Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook” published by The Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild.

This Handbook is a resource for prisoners who wish to file a federal lawsuit addressing poor conditions in prison or abuse by prison staff. It also contains limited general information about the American legal system.

This Handbook is available for free to anyone: prisoners, families, friends, activists, lawyers and others. It is available as a free download on the CCR website. They also have an online form to request a paper copy to be sent to someone who is incarcerated. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Our Services for People in Prison

People in prison can write us a letter (via postal mail) and ask for books. The letter should include their name, address, and inmate ID number. It is best to request genres of books rather than specific titles. We also have an online book request form that can be used by people inside or their family and friends.

We encourage readers to request genres instead of specific titles. The books in our library vary widely depending on who donates them. We cannot guarantee that we have a specific title in stock. 

Prison Book Program now has an online book request form where you can request books on behalf of your loved one. 

Currently, we serve federal facilities in all 50 states. As of February 2023, the only state facilities we do not serve are in Michigan and Texas. We are gradually seeking to become an authorized vendor in California state facilities on a request-by-request basis.

Even if we serve your jurisdiction, there are always individual facilities that simply will not accept books from our program. 

Most people say they heard about us through word of mouth. We are also actively trying to publicize our services more broadly.

All kinds of books. We find that with a few exceptions, the reading interests of folks in prison mimic those of the general public. Dictionaries are our most popular request – by far. We send out more than 3,500 per year. Other popular titles include thesauruses, small business startup, drawing, exercise, fiction of all kinds, religion and much more.

People in prison use them for various reasons – writing letters to family, writing legal appeals, or just trying to understand unfamiliar words in the other books we send. Many people enter prison with limited reading skills and use their time to change that. Frustrated by his inability to express himself, Malcolm X famously educated himself by copying every word in the dictionary and then using his expanded vocabulary to read most of the books in the library at MCI-Norfolk, where he was incarcerated from 1948-1952.

Our selection of books depends on what people donate. Topics available vary widely. We also buy dictionaries, thesauri, GED study guides, and other high-demand books as we can afford them.

In addition to books, we have a self-published legal reference, a resource list of organizations that help people in prison, and a few other booklets that cover topics that prisoners frequently request.

Most books are donated by individuals just like you. Occasionally, publishers and authors donate extra copies of their books. We also buy dictionaries, thesauri, and GED study guides in bulk. Many generous people donate new books through our online wish lists too. 

You can request a book on behalf of your loved one, but you cannot provide it. We will not fill requests from people who want to provide the book and have us send it to their designated person. If someone wants to send a specific title to a specific person, the book must come from a retailer, publisher or bookstore.