2023 RUSA Gail Schlachter Memorial Research Grant

Christina Plakas, PhD student of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of South Carolina – Columbia, selected winner of the 2023 Gail Schlachter Memorial Research Grant

The Gail Schlachter Memorial Research Grant is awarded annually to financially support an individual or collaborative group conducting research into reference or user services whose research projects aim to better understand or answer key questions related to connecting people to resources, information services, and collections.

Christina Plakas

For her innovative proposal to conduct research that will offer insight into what materials and resources prison law libraries need so that incarcerated individuals can adequately access legal information and learn how to navigate the complicated court system as they await trial and/or sentencing.” – Award Committee statement

RUSA’s Achievement Awards Committee has selected Christina Plakas as the recipient of this year’s Gail Schlachter Memorial Research Grant in recognition of the quality of her research proposal and the positive impact the findings will have on prison libraries and incarcerated individuals. Ms. Plakas is a former legal coordinator for the Rikers Island jail law library.

Her proposed project is rooted in the Supreme Court’s decision in Bound v. Smith (1977) that correctional facilities are legally mandated to provide inmates with legal assistance or legal resources so that they can exercise their constitutional right of access to the courts. This access to the courts must be adequate and meaningful. While the Supreme Court contended that access to the courts can take the form of law libraries or assistance from individuals with legal training/backgrounds, the Supreme Court never explicitly outlined what constitutes an adequate and meaningful law library.

Two decades later, the Supreme Court argued, “Prisoners have a constitutional right to access the courts, but this is not violated when a prison lacks legal research facilities or legal assistance unless prisoners have been substantially harmed by these deficiencies” (Lewis v. Casey, 1996). This groundbreaking case made it easier for correctional facilities to scale back their law library operations or remove them altogether.

Ms. Plakas’ research aims to gain a deeper understanding of what correctional law libraries need to adequately and meaningfully provide “access to the courts” for detained and incarcerated individuals despite the Supreme Court’s rulings.

Ms. Plakas is a 2nd year PhD student of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of South Carolina – Columbia.  She has worked in several prison law libraries in the U.S. as a law librarian/legal coordinator.

The 2023 Gail Schlachter Memorial Research Grant committee was Chaired by Jason Coleman.

More information regarding the RUSA Gail Schlachter Memorial Research Grant is available here.

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