The Yale Law Journal

Prison Law Writing Contest

Usha Chilukuri
23 Apr 2012

The Yale Law Journal welcomes submissions for our first Prison Law Writing Contest. If you are or recently have been in jail or prison, we invite you to write a short essay about your experiences with the law. The three top submissions will win cash prizes, and we hope to publish the best work.


The Journal is one of the world’s most respected and widely read scholarly publications about the law. Our authors and readers include law professors and students, practicing attorneys, and judges. The Contest offers people in prison the chance to share their stories with people who shape the law and to explain how the law affects their lives. Where permitted by state law, the authors of the winning essays will receive prizes: $250 for first place, $100 for second place, and $50 for third place.


Please write an essay addressing one of the following questions:

  • What does fair treatment look like in prison?
  • How does your institution deal with inmates who are violent or disruptive? Are people sent to solitary confinement? Is the disciplinary system fair, and does it help to maintain order?
  • Tell us about a notable or surprising experience you’ve had with another person in the legal system—whether a judge, a lawyer, a guard, or anyone else. What did you learn from it?
  • The goals of criminal punishment include retribution (giving people what they deserve), deterrence (discouraging future crimes), and rehabilitation (improving behavior). What purpose, if any, has your time in prison served? Should one of these purposes be emphasized more?
  • Have you ever filed a grievance with jail or prison authorities to complain about conditions? Tell us about it, and explain how the grievance process works. Are grievances effective? How do prison authorities respond to them? How do you feel about federal law’s requirement that prisoners file grievances before suing about prison conditions in court?
  • If you have been released from prison, what challenges did you face in reentering society?
  • How, if at all, do you maintain relationships with your family while in prison? Describe the prison rules that govern how much contact you can have with your family. How has being in prison affected your family relationships? 

Please do not discuss your innocence or guilt or ask for legal assistance with your case. Submissions are not confidential. Whatever you write will not be protected by attorney-client privilege. If you have an attorney, please speak with your attorney before submitting your work.


You may submit an essay if you have been an inmate in a prison or jail at any point from January 1, 2010 through September 30, 2012. We welcome essays of about 1000-5000 words, or roughly 4-20 pages. Please type your submission if possible. If you must write by hand, please be sure your writing is readable. Feel free to work together with others, but your essay should be in your own voice. 

Essays must be received by October 1, 2012. Email your submission to if possible. If you do not have email access, please mail your work to: The Yale Law Journal, ATTN: Prison Law, P.O. Box 208215, New Haven, CT 06520-8215. Please include your name and the name of the institution where you are or were imprisoned, and tell us the best way to reach you now.