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About - Prisoners' Legal Services
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About

Why Is PLS Necessary?

PLS Is A Safety Valve.

Without PLS, there would, in all likelihood, be more prison disturbances. PLS staff provide inmates with an important non-violent way to resolve disputes. PLS’ availability to inmates in New York’s 69 prisons and the Willard Drug Treatment Facility reduces tensions and hostility by helping to resolve disputes quickly and helping to ensure a safer environment for prisoners and corrections staff alike. Most prisoners will ultimately be released. To assure public safety, the state must ensure that prisoners will be returning to their communities having been treated humanely and having had access to quality mental health care and other programs while in prison. PLS works towards those goals and is a sound investment toward public safety.

PLS Is Cost Efficient.

Most of the money that is invested in PLS is returned to the state in cost savings. One example is that in 2011, as a result of our advocacy on disciplinary hearings, sentencing and jail time issues, PLS saved the state over $3.9 million. We did this in spite of the fact that our funding has significantly decreased over the past two years.

PLS Fills A Critical Void.

PLS responded to approximately 12,000 inmate complaints this past year. PLS’ staff resolves most matters at the administrative level through negotiation. PLS actively discourages the filing of frivolous litigation and litigates only when necessary. Private attorneys rarely take inmate cases and there are no other legal services available to most inmates.

PLS Is Successful.

Due to PLS’ advocacy since 1976, virtually every aspect of prison life has been made more humane and more consistent with legal requirements. Areas of prison life affected include, access to improved mental health and medical care, improved visiting procedures, protection of religious freedom, insuring the privacy of strip searches, the reversal of improperly conducted disciplinary hearings and damages for the excessive use of force by guards.

PLS Is Required.

The State has a legal responsibility to provide meaningful access to the courts for inmates confined in state prisons. Placeholder  ImageNew York has in the past wisely chosen to fund PLS, to provide this access to at least part of the inmate population. In a letter to Governor Pataki, several years ago, the then-President, the immediate Past President and the President-Elect of the New York State Bar Association addressed the claim that law libraries are all that is needed for inmates to pursue their claims.

“Unquestionably libraries cannot serve as a substitute for trained lawyers to provide meaningful access to the courts. Experience demonstrates that citizens are not able to adequately represent themselves in litigation, particularly that which requires discovery or trial. And inmates who are not literate, who do not speak English well or who are mentally ill surely are entitled to the services of lawyers. The fact is that lawyers are essential to the fair administration of justice for prisoners.”