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From the Editor

The link between solitary confinement and mental illness is well known, well documented and largely ignored by the prison officials and policy makers who decide to imprison tens of thousands of American prisoners in solitary confinement on any given day for months, years and decades on end. PLN has frequently reported on control unit conditions, their proliferation and expansion. The most significant progress that has been made in the past ten years has been a series of court rulings holding that it violates the Eighth amendment to hold the mentally ill in control units. However, this illustrates the poverty of litigation in that it is perfectly constitutional to keep the sane in control units until they become mentally ill. The United States is also unique as it is the only country, besides South Korea, which keeps prisoners in total isolation for decades at a time. This month’s cover story explores the connection between long term isolation, suicide, and public safety in Massachusetts. Massachusetts is one of many states that confines prisoners in isolation for years and decades on ends, with predictable results.

One thing about the United States is that abysmal prison and jail conditions are fairly uniform around the country. The story on Mississippi jails by Bob Williams illustrates that little has changed in the deep south over the past decades when it comes to prisons and jails.

For its part, PLN continues its efforts to shed light on the prison industrial complex. On July 29, 2008, Tennessee Chancery Court judge Claudia Bonnyman issued a landmark ruling in PLN’s favor holding that Corrections Corporation of America was subject to the state’s public records law and had to comply with a records request from PLN. As soon as the court issues a written ruling (the transcript of the oral ruling the court issued from the bench is posted on PLN’s website) we will report it in greater detail in the magazine. For its part, CCA has appealed. PLN has been well represented by Memphis attorney Andy Clarke. The use of public records laws to glean information about the inner workings of prison and jail systems are one of the few forms of transparency which exist with regards to detention facilities. The need to litigate to obtain records which are nominally public highlights the lack of transparency and accountability in the prison industry as a whole.

The PLN website at continues to improve. We have made a number of its features more user friendly. Significantly, it now has over 2,600 documents in its brief bank, this contains all manner of legal pleadings including complaints, unpublished court rulings and jury verdicts, appeals, and more. Our publications library has over 2,300 different reports, litigation exhibits, audits, research papers and more while our actual article database contains over 20,000 articles; 9,000 court rulings and all issues of PLN published to date. PLN has the most complete, comprehensive and thorough website on the internet related to all detention facilities and detention facility litigation.
We also operate a free list serv, for those with internet access, where we send out daily news reports on prison and jail news and litigation. While prisoners do not have internet access, everything on the site is designed for easy searches and being able to print the contents out for mailing to prisoners. We add new content on a daily basis.

Lastly, I was recently informed that I have been awarded the Arthur Kinoy award by the National Lawyers Guild. Arthur Kinoy was a legendary civil and human rights attorney (1920-2003) who defended the rights of activists and citizens throughout his legal career. I am honored to be the inaugural recipient of this award. I was also the jailhouse lawyer co-vice president of the NLG, along with Mumia Abu Jamal, from 1995-2008. Mark Cook, a former Washington state and federal political prisoner, is now the new NLG jailhouse lawyer co-vice president. I will be receiving the award at the NLG’s annual convention in Detroit from October 15-19.

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