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From the Editor

by Paul Wright

I would like to thank everyone who has written, called or e mailed us with favorable comments about last month's 15th anniversary issue of PLN. It was quite the milestone and one which we are very proud of. We hope the next decade of publishing allows us to both expand the size and further improve the quality of PLN. This issue of PLN also includes comments from supporters about PLN that should have been in the anniversary issue but which were inadvertently excluded. But, better late than never.

Many readers have commented that they liked the 56 pages of the anniversary issue. We were able to run 56 pages thanks to the additional ads in the issue. We remain committed to maintaining a ratio of 25% ads to 75% editorial content. As our advertising content increases, so too will our overall size so we can bring readers more news and information.

Advocacy and outreach on prisoner rights issues remain another important part of the work we do at PLN. At least once a month I give presentations on prisoner rights issues and abuse within American prisons and jails around the country. In March I spoke at the University of Ottawa in Canada conference on Prison and Penal Transformation. Primarily criminologists from Canada, Europe and Australia, my presentation was on Writing as Resistance," the role of prisoner publications as sources of news and organizing. Most exciting is being able to address students, in this case some 125 students enrolled in a penal abolition class taught by Robert Gaucher, a long time friend and supporter of PLN and the prison press.

At the conclusion of my presentation to the students about the state of human rights in American prisons and jails one student asked me what they, as Canadians, could do to help improve the situation. My response was that as foreign citizens one thing they could do was to deny the United States government any legitimacy on the issue of human rights in any international forum where the United States dares to show its face. As long as the US maintains its concentration camps in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram Air Force base and the countless unknown CIA torture centers, as long as the US imprisons over 2 million people in overcrowded, violent and subhuman conditions, and as long as the US does not comply with international treaties to which it is a signatory on the matter of human rights for American prisoners, the world community should deny the US any international forum to criticize any other government or regime until it gets its own house in order.

This was well received. It also goes to the concept that people imprisoned in American detention facilities, whether here in the US or in military prisons in occupied countries elsewhere, have fundamental human rights which must be respected. Alas, for many people, especially those in government, this is a pretty revolutionary concept.

During the symposium in Ottawa I chatted with an official from the Correctional Services of Canada, the Canadian federal prison system which houses all prisoners sentenced to more than 2 years imprisonment. We were discussing disease prevention strategies and he was very enthusiastic about the Canadian prison system's needle exchange program and condom distribution policy and mentioned they had just opened one or two tattoo parlors in maximum security prisons on a trial basis to determine their efficacy in preventing the spread of blood borne diseases. Since I have at least four friends that I know of who have contracted Hepatitis C through jailhouse tattoos, this seems very reasonable. Canadian prisoners also have family visiting programs with spouses and family members. I asked if there was any political opposition to these programs and he said there was some, mostly from English speaking politicians from Western Canada who liked to emulate US politicians but that for the most part these were seen as realistic, successful and pragmatic ways to deal with important public safety issues.

Hearing a number of criminologists speak about their research I had to ask, at the conclusion, if anyone in the field internationally took US practices on prisons and crime seriously. A professor from Australia said professionals did not and generally viewed American prison and crime policies as exactly what no one should do if they wish to control crime, but he said the problem was also political and to the extent the US dominates so much of the world politically and militarily, so too in the way of criminal justice policy. He used as an example the case of a governor from an Australian state who came to the US, visiting New York City and the Texas prison system and returned to Australia as a big advocate of zero tolerance" policing and draconian prisons. The public loved it even when the local police chiefs, prison wardens and others in the criminal justice industry in Australia voiced their opposition and pointed out the failure of these policies in the US in terms of controlling crime and rehabilitating prisoners. Significantly though, the measures were not adopted.

What struck me about this is how little most Americans know about how out of synch the US is with the rest of the world on criminal justice policies. Many people know the US and Japan are the only two industrialized capitalist countries that have and use the death penalty. Very few, however, know that the US is one of the very few countries in the world which sentences people to life in prison without parole. US sentencing practices are far harsher than those of every other industrialized country in the world and much of the developing world as well. With 5% of the world's population, the US imprisons 25% of the world's prisoners. In conditions that are not only harsher, but deliberately designed to make people worse when they emerge from prison than when they go in. While other countries may have worse prisons, they do so not out of policy but because they are poor and lack the resources to do better. I was also the sole American attending this conference.

I would like to thank our readers who send us news clippings and information about the cases they win. Please don't send us copies of pleadings for cases when they are filed. If and when you win a settlement or a verdict on the merits please send us the details so we can report them in PLN.

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