Administrative Review & Risk Management Division
Access to Courts
To ensure that offenders assigned to the correctional institutions operated, managed, or monitored by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) are provided their constitutional right of access to the courts, counsel and public officials, and that access is "adequate, effective, and meaningful" as required by state and federal law.
What is “access to courts”?
Although an offender’s right of access to courts is not clearly enumerated in the United States Constitution, over the years a series of court decisions, federal and state statutes have shaped and codified these rights. With the evolution of these rights came the mechanism to uphold and protect them from violation or denial. Consequently, the right of access to courts, such as submitting a petition or complaint to a court, is considered to be a fundamental right upon which all other constitutional and inherent rights are contingent.
Fundamentals of access to courts:
Every offender has the right of access to state or federal courts, legal counsel, public officials, and governmental agencies. Offenders may present any issue, including challenges to the legality of their confinement, redress for improper conditions of confinement, remedies for civil law problems, claims against correctional officials and other governmental authorities, and any other right protected by constitutional or statutory provisions, or by common law. Officers, employees, or agents of TDCJ shall not interfere with, harass, punish, or otherwise penalize any offender as a result of participation in litigation, either as a party or a witness, or for filing or threatening to file a lawsuit, grievance, appeal, or other complaint about prison conditions, official misconduct, or for discussing the same with others, or writing in accordance with agency rules and regulations to others about actual or potential legal action or other forms of grievance and complaint.
Law Library Management
The Access to Courts Department is a statewide program that provides services to, and for, all TDCJ offenders. All offenders are afforded some type of access to a meaningful law library that, at a minimum, contains self-help publications, pertinent case law, codes, rules, and fill-in-the-blank legal forms. Depending on the classification of the offender, he or she will either be given direct or indirect access to the law library. Offenders with direct law library access are afforded an opportunity to receive a minimum of 10 hours of access per week. Offenders with indirect law library access are delivered three items of legal research materials per day, on three alternating days per week to their housing location.
Attorney/Consular Official Access
Attorneys and their representatives have access to visit offenders, Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. In addition, attorneys may also request telephone calls with their attorney clients. Consular officials are afforded the same rights and privileges as attorneys.
Additional Areas of Oversight:
- Resolution of Step 2 Offender Grievances as signature authority, for any grievance that involves access to courts issues
- Management of correspondence supplies and postage provided to qualified offenders
- Public Information Act (PIA) coordinator on each unit for both citizen and offender requests
- Notary service
- Court Transcript Administration
- Assist offenders with disabilities, such as those who are illiterate, monolingual, or other similar circumstances, in obtaining access to courts
- Court video and telephone conferences
- Offender subsequent storage qualification and issuance
- Administration of Intra Law Library Loan Program
- Assist offenders in gaining access to Parole Revocation Hearing audio tapes
- Court certification of impoverishment
- Acknowledgement of Paternity - assist offenders wanting to establish legal paternity of their biological offspring
Fiscal Year 2016 Statistics
- 402,569 Offender visits to law library sessions
- 236,181 Items of legal research material were delivered
- 18,533 Notary signatures were provided
- 330 Offender with offender legal visits were conducted
- 2,334 Attorney with offender phone calls were conducted
- 1,079 Court teleconference inquires via phone were conducted
- 124 Court teleconference inquires via video conference were conducted
- 5,472 Attorney visits were conducted
- 1,868 Attorney representative visits were conducted
- 87 Depositions were conducted
- 49,618 Court forms were issued
- 3,888 Court certificates of impoverishment
- 833 Public Information Act requests, Subpoenas, Special Prosecution Unit requests, & Inter-Agency requests processed
- 801 Approved Applications to Visit TDCJ Offender as Attorney's Representative
- 221 Approved officiants authorized to perform offender marriages
- 1,264 Step 2 offender grievances (700 code) processed
- 37,045 Telephone calls/emails processed by the ATC administrative office (e.g. judicial, attorneys, law enforcement, TDCJ officials, etc.)
For more information
Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Offender Access to Courts, Counsel, and Public Officials Department
Vickie Barrow, Program Manager
1060 Hwy 190 E.
Huntsville, TX 77340
Phone: (936) 437-4815
Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.