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From the Editor

After 20 years of publishing Prison Legal News I have been asked if it ever gets old or if I get tired of reporting the same news for decades. While there are common themes in prison and jail news over the years (medical neglect and guard brutality being the most common), new things are always arising and then there are new variations on the old.

One thing that I look for whenever there is a mainstream media story is “what is the prison angle” for PLN readers. For the past few decades the sexual assault of children by members of the clergy has been all too common and the sexual assault of prisoners by staff members has been even more common. This month’s cover story reflects that connection as we report in detail on an inter-related phenomenon: clergy members who rape prisoners and prisons that serve as dumping grounds for clergy who rape their parishioners outside prison.

PLN had reported such cases in the past but it was only while researching broader articles on a national basis, about the prevalence of sexual assault of prisoners by staff, that the scope of the problem became apparent. How prevalent is difficult to say given the lack of reliable data on sexual assaults by staff and also since, compared to say guards, there are a lot less clergy working in prisons and jails – yet given the opportunity, some can and do act with the worst of intentions. The flip side of the coin are the clergy who, in addition to providing for prisoners’ spiritual needs, also advocate on behalf of prisoners and seek reform of existing prison systems. As we note, those clergy members are targeted for removal from prisons and jails with a rigor rarely seen when abusive staff are the problem.

This year marks PLN’s 20th anniversary and we are celebrating 20 years of independent, hard-hitting journalism and advocacy exposing the realities of the American gulag. Our survival over the past two decades is thanks to our readers and supporters. Subscribers will soon be receiving our annual fundraiser and I hope that readers are extra generous this time around to help us mark our anniversary. When PLN started in 1990 I don’t think anyone expected we would last 20 years. I certainly didn’t.

Our second book, The Habeas Corpus Citebook, is nearing completion and should be ready for shipping by mid-October. We will announce its availability as soon as we have copies in our office that are ready to ship. Also, the long-awaited fourth edition of the Prisoners’ Self-Help Litigation Manual by John Boston and Dan Manville has been published, and as this issue of PLN goes to press we are contacting the publisher about distributing the book and will announce it as soon as we have an answer.

For the past two decades that I have been PLN’s editor, the only thing that has consistently saddened me has been writing the obituaries for our supporters who have died over the course of our publication. A few months ago when I heard that political prisoner and former PLN columnist Marilyn Buck was being released on July 15, 2010 after 25 years in prison, I was elated at the prospect of finally meeting Marilyn after so many years of communicating by mail. Marilyn was convicted in 1985 of various political offenses aimed at protesting US imperialism, including bombing the US senate and the naval war college. She was sentenced to 80 years in prison.

Marilyn was one of our earliest subscribers when PLN began publishing in 1990. She contributed articles to a wide variety of publications on the topics of women prisoners, prisons in general, political prisoners and radical politics, and poems as well. Marilyn was also a quarterly columnist for PLN in 2000 and 2001; her column was appropriately titled Notes from the Unrepenitentiary.

Unfortunately, Marilyn died on August 3, 2010 at the age of 62 due to untreated uterine cancer, less than a month after being released from federal prison. Prisoners in general and women prisoners in particular have lost a powerful advocate. It is sad to say that the medical neglect of the Bureau of Prisons succeeded in silencing a proud, powerful woman where the guns of the FBI and assorted police agencies failed.

On that very unhappy note, please enjoy this issue of PLN and please encourage others to subscribe. As the holidays approach, if you are looking for a good holiday gift consider giving a subscription to PLN or one of the books we distribute.

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