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The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure turn fifty in 2018. During the Rules’ half-century of existence, the number of federal appeals by self-represented, incarcerated litigants has grown dramatically. This article surveys ways in which the procedure for inmate appeals has evolved over the past 50 years, and examines the challenges of designing procedures with confined litigants in mind. In the initial decades under the Appellate Rules, the most visible developments concerning the procedure for inmate appeals arose from the interplay between court decisions and the federal rulemaking process. But, as court dockets swelled, the circuits also developed local case management practices that significantly affect inmate appeals. And, in the 1990s, Congress enacted legislation that produced major changes in inmate litigation, including inmate appeals. In the coming years, the most notable new driver of change in the procedure for inmate appeals may be the advent of opportunities for electronic court filing within prisons. That nascent development illustrates the ways in which the particulars of procedure in inmate appeals are shaped by systems in prisons, jails, and other facilities – and underscores the salience of local court practices and institutional partnerships.


Corrections, litigation, federal appeals, pro se incarcerated litigants, inmates, habeas, in forma pauperis, AEDPA, PLRA, Prison Litigation Reform Act, criminal procedure, criminal appeals, prisoners’ rights, civil rights, prison mailbox rule, electronic court filing & service of process, CM/ECF

Publication Title

Arizona State Law Journal

Publication Citation

50 Ariz. St. L. J. 249 (2018).