Vanderbilt Law Review

Article Title

Right and Remedy


Barry Friedman

First Page



I came to Alabama in 1982, to interview for a position as a visiting professor at the University of Alabama School of Law. A large group of the faculty took me to lunch that day. I did not understand until much later that the conversation at lunch was an important part of the interview. The group moved from one topic of discussion to another, until we lighted on an area of the law in which I was willing to take and defend a position. That topic proved to be federal habeas corpus jurisdiction, and it only made sense that the chief devil's advocate was Larry Yackle. Yackle is one of the foremost commentators on habeas corpus, and it is little coincidence that his first book-Reform and-Regret: The Story of Federal Judicial Involvement in the Alabama Prison System-is his account of the prison litigation in Alabama.'

I returned to Alabama in August of that year to take up my faculty position. My first night in Alabama I was invited to dinner at the associate dean's house. During dinner the dean's husband talked at some length about the civil rights and prisoner litigation in which he was involved. I recall interrupting at one point in the conversation to ask whether I could spend some time observing those matters. I was told that in Alabama one did not come to observe, but I was welcome to participate if I so chose. I did, and thus learned about civil rights litigation at the side of one of the great lawyers I have known, a moving force in the Alabama prison litigation, Ralph Knowles.Although I do not know for certain, it undoubtedly was an encounter of this nature that put Larry Yackle in the position to tell his insider's story of the Alabama prison litigation. Yackle writes as an observer, with a certain amount of distance and neutrality. Yet he tells us from the outset that his role was more than that. He "advised" the prisoners' lawyers on legal issues, he acted as legal advisor to a team of psychologists charged with classifying inmates, and on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, he argued before the Alabama Supreme Court challenging the state attorney general's interpretation of state sentencing laws. But primarily--and perhaps most importantly-- Yackle monitored the prison cases "for a decade-in conversations over dinner, strategy sessions in lawyers' offices and, occasionally, formal proceedings in court."'From this vantage point, Yackle offers us a story of, in his words,"a struggle for social reform."' For over a decade a team of lawyers worked to change the nature of Alabama's penal system. Reform and Regret is Yackle's story of that struggle, told in meticulous detail, perceptively, and with the insight that comes only from being on the inside.