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From the Editor

Our cover story this month examines the travails of Geo Corporation, the second largest private prison company in the world in the state of Texas. We recently noted their pullout from the state of Pennsylvania. Also in this issue of PLN is the Texas court of appeals ruling upholding a $42 million wrongful death verdict against Geo. We are not singling Geo out. They are neither better nor worse than their colleagues in the private prison industry. Since its inception in 1990 PLN has opposed the private prison industry. In doing so we have never claimed or argued that government prisons were somehow “better” or a panacea of some sort. Rather the comparison is between rotten apples and rotten oranges.

But as the cover story illustrates, government prison officials are not hiring politicians and giving them hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in “consulting fees” to push their “lock ‘em up agenda”. And when a prisoner dies because of short staffing, under trained guards or simple neglect, the warden at a government prison can’t expect to get a bonus for saving the company money. The most pernicious impact of the private prison industry has been its expansion of physical prison beds. Able to raise capital quicker and easier than governments, they can and do build prisons on “spec” that they will eventually be filled by someone. Like the Field of Dreams, build the prisons and they will be filled.
Were it not for the 115,000 private prison beds many states would have long ago had to enact sentencing reform to reduce their prison populations. States like Hawaii and Vermont for example, have a quarter to half their prison populations housed in private prisons out of state. Half of New Mexico’s prisoners are housed in private prisons.

The stunning lack of leadership by the legislative and executive branches of government on criminal justice issues have ensured a burgeoning prison population even as crime rates drop and the massive diversion of scarce resources to mass incarceration. The private prison industry has acted as the enablers of this political failure by ensuring that when states run out of prison space and voters will not approve bonds to build more, the prison space is there. Combined with direct and indirect industry lobbying for longer sentences this ensures a steady revenue stream for the private prison industry, every single penny they receive is paid for by tax payers somewhere. As an industry, private prisons can measure their impact in dollars and bodies. Ironically the US had private prisons for most of its history until most were abandoned by the 1920s as the public revulsion for their brutality and corruption grew. Like a cancer, the idea has returned. But all of the reasons private prisons were banished in the 1920s remain today. The time is long past to permanently eliminate the private prison industry.

I would like to thank our readers who send us information about the cases they win. To speed things up, if you win a case send us the last amended complaint in the case and either the settlement or the verdict sheet. A letter saying you won isn’t enough and while we can track down the details for most state court cases in particular, it is slow and time consuming. And please do not write on the court documents you send us! We can scan them in and post them on our website. It is a little tacky to post court documents when someone used a big red marker to write “I won” on the verdict! Please don’t send us legal pleadings or documents for assistance or when a case is filed. We lack the resources to do more than we are doing and we rarely report cases that are not final decisions on the merits.

This issue of PLN reports on the settlement of our lawsuit against the Massachusetts Department of Corrections which for 5 years censored books sent by PLN claiming we were not an “approved vendor”. A week after we filed suit the department eliminated the approved vendor rule. We would like to thank Boston attorneys Howard Friedman and David Milton for their great representation of PLN in the case. In PLN v. Lappin we achieved another favorable ruling in our long running Freedom of Information Act suit against the Bureau of Prisons. Ed Elder is the D.C. attorney who has represented us through the litigation. Unfortunately, shortly after the decision was released he was struck by a hit and run driver and seriously injured. He is on his way to recovery and should be back at the helm in a few months. We are grateful to Ed for his tenacious representation of PLN in this case and we wish him a speedy recovery. Partnership for Civil Justice is now co-counseling the case and were gracious enough to quickly step in to assist after we received news of Ed’s accident.

For the past few years PLN donated about 2,000 copies of PLN to Books to Prisoners programs around the country for distribution to prisoners unable to afford subscriptions. We have had to discontinue this program due to a lack of funds. So if you were one of the prisoners who received PLN through a BTP program, the time has come to subscribe! Lastly, if you patronize PLN’s advertisers, please tell them you saw their ad in PLN. It helps them know where their message is being seen.

Enjoy this issue of PLN and please encourage others to subscribe.

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