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Westlaw trumps law books in US prisons

If you're an American prisoner unhappy with your sentence, you might want to start brushing up on your IT skills. This story of an inmate who objected that giving limited Westlaw access wasn't the same as providing a legal library turned up in my RSS feeds via Library Stuff.

I can understand his problems with Westlaw, although it's actually one of the less painful legal databases to use (Lexis - why? WHY?!?!). As the story says though, he's not likely to win his case, so the books will be going, and occasional Westlaw access will be staying. Which ain't fun if you're not confident on a computer, and have restricted access.

Do we have a similar sort of requirement for prisoners to have access to law libraries and legal materials? Do UK prisoners have any sort of ability to do legal research on their own behalf?

Comments

Michael said…
Nah.. they're probably too busy researching the best way of securing a new source of drugs to keep them going 'inside'!

;-)
woodsiegirl said…
That's fascinating - I had no idea that any prisons, UK or US, provided access to legal research materials! This generally strikes me as a Good Thing, regardless of whether print or electronic resources are used.

I have no idea if the same happens in the UK - my initial reaction would be to assume that our prison libraries are probably too cash-strapped to afford a Westlaw subscription, but having never worked in or even visited a prison library that's based on nothing at all really! I wonder if any prison librarians out there could shed some light on this?
Dumpling said…
@Michael - you're a very naughty boy! Go to your room and think about what you've done! ;)

@Woodsiegirl - Yeah -I've never beein in/near a prison library, or know much about them, but I'd imagine their budgets are as pushed as any other public library service (as prisoners are really just the public, in a public building they can't leave). And if it's just criminal law resources they need (an area I also know nothing about), Westlaw is perhaps too wide-ranging to justify the insane cost of.

Would definitely like to know more about this from a UK prison librarian though - is interesting question, especially since the prisoners would seem to have as much right to a library service as any other member of the public.
Leeb said…
From a previous librarian life I remember that HMP Edinburgh kept a set of Renton & Brown updated. The HMIP Standards for Inspections includes the indicator "The library has a good collection of legal texts"
Dumpling said…
Thanks Leeb, that's interesting - so there is some provision, but with a wonderfully woolly wording! The definition of "good collection" might well vary widely, depending on who's in charge of the purse strings then? And electronic databases would probably be way out of the reach of most.

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