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From the Editor
Right now a critical issue is getting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to act on the Wright Petition, which would cap interstate prison phone rates. If you and your friends, family members and supporters can call, write or e-mail the FCC, as described in the ad on page 21, that will let the FCC know this is an important issue affecting millions of prisoners and those who care about them.
In addition to organizing the Prison Phone Justice Campaign, we are also updating the information for all 50 states and the Bureau of Prisons with respect to their telephone contracts, the actual cost of prison phone calls, the kickbacks paid by phone companies, and who holds the contracts. We will report our progress in upcoming issues of PLN and will publish a comprehensive report on the topic in early 2013.
We have added almost a dozen new books, mostly law-related, to our book list on pages 53-54. Please check them out; as usual, there is free shipping on book orders over $50.
We will be publishing reviews of the new additions in the near future. As we move forward, we plan to update our book list on a more regular basis to provide our readers with timely and informative books they can use to help themselves. If you know of titles that might be of interest to PLN readers, please let us know.
On April 21, 2012, Charles “Chuck” Colson died at the age of 80. Colson was special counsel to President Richard Nixon; he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for his role in the Watergate scandal. Colson had a religious conversion to Christianity, and served seven months in federal prison. Upon his release he started Prison Fellowship with the goal of evangelizing among U.S. prisoners.
I never met Chuck in person but we corresponded while I was in prison, and over the past 22 years PLN and HRDC have joined with Prison Fellowship on a number of issues to advocate on behalf of prisoners. Those issues have ranged from stopping prison rape and sexual assaults to supporting the Second Chance Act.
While Chuck remained a conservative Republican until his death, that turned out to be a good thing when it came to advocating for prisoners’ rights, since all too often he and Prison Fellowship were the only voices of reason that conservative lawmakers would listen to. Prisoners of all religious persuasions have lost a friend and ally with Chuck’s passing, and we extend our condolences to his family and friends.
This month’s cover story responds to many of the points made by Michelle Alexander in her book The New Jim Crow, which was reviewed by Mumia Abu Jamal in the September 2010 issue of PLN. Alexander’s book has been very popular, with good reason: she presents a compelling argument to explain mass incarceration in the United States. But as in many cases the underlying factors are more complicated, and James Forman’s cover story discusses some of the weaknesses and problems with Alexander’s race-based explanation for mass incarceration.
Those interested in this topic should read The New Jim Crow, which provides a compelling look at our justice system, and compare it with Forman’s differing views to make up their own minds. We believe it is important to have debate and discussion on these critical issues; as we seek progressive change in the criminal justice system, it is worthwhile to understand how we arrived at our current situation.
As the 2012 presidential election approaches, Forman’s article has even greater relevance as people are asked to vote for Obama, assuming they can vote and are not disenfranchised because they have been convicted of a felony. After three years under the nation’s first black president, the federal prison population continues to grow, its budget is higher than ever, and Obama went almost two years before issuing any pardons – the second slowest pardon record for any president.
Further, the deafening silence of most black civil rights groups on criminal justice issues and mass imprisonment is telling. PLN frequently sues jails and prison systems for censoring our magazine and books, and in the past few years we have sued some of the largest jails in the U.S., including the Fulton County jail in Atlanta and Orleans Parish jail in New Orleans. Most of the prisoners in those facilities are black, but nearly everyone in the political power structure in those cities – the mayor, sheriff, most of the jail staff, etc. – are also black, yet conditions are as bad if not worse than they were in the actual Jim Crow days when black people did not hold elected office.
Mass imprisonment has had a bipartisan consensus in this country over the past 40 years as mainstream politicians of all stripes vie to outdo each other as advocates for tough-on-crime laws and police-state policies. Of the potential candidates for the 2012 presidential election, only Ron Paul has publicly opposed the death penalty – yet surveys show that a third of the American public is against capital punishment. Policymakers have their own agendas, which are often contrary to establishing a fair, effectual and rehabilitative criminal justice system that best serves the public.
I hope you enjoy this issue of PLN. Please encourage others to subscribe. Also, please support our Prison Phone Justice Campaign by making a donation to help fund the campaign and gather the information necessary to make it suc-cessful.
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