Saturday, May 25, 2013

North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services Completely Eliminated in Senate Budget, Replaced by Computers


25 May 2013

For More Information:      Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, President, 919-394-8137

Mrs. Amina J. Turner, Executive Director, 919-682-4700

Atty. Jamie Phillips Cole, Public Policy Coordinator, 



The NC NAACP is disgusted with many parts of the Senate's proposed budget, such as cutting funds that benefit the youngest North Carolinians headed to Pre-K and K-12, millions of dollars of tax cuts for the wealthiest North Carolinians and attacks on Medicaid which affect all North Carolinians. In addition, one of the most blatantly unconstitutional parts of the Senate's budget is the complete defunding of North Carolina Prisoners Legal Services (NCPLS).  

In Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S, 817, 97 S.Ct. 1491 (1976), the United States Supreme Court, speaking through Justice Thurgood Marshall, decreed that the fundamental constitutional right of access to the courts required prison administrators to assist inmates in preparing and filing meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate legal assistance and libraries or the adequate assistance from persons trained in the law. This case involved a policy decision by the North Carolina Department of Corrections to create seven law libraries across the state to serve the legal needs of the state's inmate population. This plan would have allowed prisoners to use the libraries which would be stocked with a collection of law books, legal forms, writing paper, typewriters and the use of copying machines. The Supreme Court ruled that this plan violated the United States Constitution and the Department of Corrections was required to devise a constitutionally sound program to assure every inmate with access to the courts. In response, the North Carolina General Assembly decided to contract with the NCPLS to provide attorneys and legal assistance to the prisoners who were housed within the NC Department of Corrections.

The present budgetary proposal to defund NCPLS and replace that agency with computers which can access various legal research services would do no more than recreate the limited prison library availability that the U.S. Supreme Court deemed to be unconstitutional in Bounds v. Smith. The proposal, as drafted and advocated by Representative Thomas Goolsby, does no more than provide in a computer format exactly the same thing that was previously provided through the use of law books and legal forms. It is understood that meaningful access to the courts means much more than simply allowing inmates to be able to read about the law. The Bounds v. Smith opinion mandates that the State provide legal assistance as well as legal information in order for the inmates' legal needs to be satisfied. The Goolsby proposal would evade that constitutional requirement. Providing access to legal opinions does not provide the legal assistance which the U.S. Supreme Court requires.

Prisoners have many legal needs and merely providing a computer to connect them to legal resources that allows them to read opinions does not satisfy the constitutional mandate. After determining that a legal need exists and where there are possible viable claims, the prisoner needs someone to interpret the law, prepare adequate pleadings, properly file and serve legal documents, respond to adverse responses, conduct and manage discovery and many other tasks which prisoners are simply unable to perform. Although it has been significantly underfunded over the years, NCPLS has successfully provided North Carolina prisoners with the type of legal services which satisfies the Bound v. Smith mandate.

The NC NAACP recognizes the significant needs for prisoners to have adequate access to legal services and deplore this effort by Representative Goolsby, an attorney who should know better, to strip prisoners of their constitutional right to ensure full access to the courts. We call upon the Senate and the House to fully restore the funding for NCPLS into this and subsequent budgets. We speak loudly for the prisoners and our court systems because they cannot speak for themselves on this critical constitutional issue.


Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors. 


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...