Helping Incarcerated People Be Heard

The Pennsylvania Prison Society receives hundreds of letters, annually, from people incarcerated within Pennsylvania prisons. While organizations make every effort to respond to these letters, most of the queries in these letters will never receive a substantive answer because of organizational capacity constraints and the reality that most of the people answering these letters are not law-trained. Thus, incarcerated people who have valid legal concerns may never receive substantive information or referrals that could help give them some modicum of justice or, at least, fair process.

Students involved in this project worked with the Prison Society to determine the legal concerns most often reflected in prisoner correspondence. Students then conducted research to determine the best approach to the concerns reflected. Using this research, they drafted boilerplate letter responses that lay organizations can append to the responses that they send to prison correspondence, which include legal information, citations, and references. Importantly, these boilerplate letters were written in an audience-driven style, with the intention that they provide information in an accessible and user-friendly way.