For over 35 years this nonprofit public interest law firm has been in the forefront of legal efforts to enforce the Constitution and other laws inside the walls of California's prisons. With a small staff of attorneys and support personnel, the Prison Law Office represents individual prisoners, engages in class action and other impact litigation, educates the public about prison conditions, and provides technical assistance to attorneys throughout the country. (The office generally does not handle criminal appeals or habeas corpus petitions challenging criminal convictions.)

California's prisons remain dangerously overcrowded at 147% of design capacity with over 122,000 prisoners crammed into 33 institutions, plus another 12,000 prisoners housed out-of-state and in community facilities. Basic necessities of life, such as medical and mental health care, are often lacking. Prisoners with disabilities are not recognized as disabled, and many are not provided reasonable accommodations as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Through both individual and impact litigation, the Prison Law Office has changed many California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation policies and practices, and has alleviated many of the cruel and unusual conditions that have been inflicted upon tens of thousands of state prisoners.


The Prison Law Office provides free legal services to California state prisoners, and occasionally to California state parolees. Our assistance is generally limited to cases regarding conditions of confinement. Further, the office does not typically assist or represent prisoners in lawsuits in which money damages are the primary objective. Instead, the office focuses on cases in which a change in conditions is sought. The office attempts to resolve such cases informally, if possible (by advocating to prison officials), or through formal litigation.

With regard to condition of confinement matters, the decision to assist with any particular case depends on the issue or problem presented, the chance of success, the amount of time and resource necessary to properly assist, the office's resources, staff availability and caseload.

The Prison Law Office publishes and periodically updates The California State Prisoners Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Prison and Parole Law. Click here for Ordering Information.

We are also happy to provide self-help and informational materials to prisoners, some of which are published on this website, including a habeas corpus manual, parolee rights manual, and personal injury lawsuit packet, as well as material regarding administrative remedies, divorce, guard brutality, immigration, loss of personal property, plea bargains, release dates, workers' compensation, and worktime credits.

If you or a family member have an issue that you believe we can assist with, please feel free to contact our office. Letters concerning individual prisoners and prison conditions can be addressed to:

Prison Law Office
General Delivery
San Quentin, CA 94964

Due to the large number of inquiries, we cannot accept telephone calls from prisoners and their families.


The Prison Law Office is occasionally featured in news stories describing the organization's impact on the California prison and juvenile justice systems. Read the:
  July 5, 2005 San Diego Union Tribune Article