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From the Editor

This month celebrates PLN’s 22nd year of publication. One constant in our news coverage for the duration of our existence has been the exploitation of prison slave labor. Some things change, others do not. Until fairly recently most farm work in the U.S. was done by ruthlessly exploited American laborers as chronicled by such classics as John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Edward Murrow’s TV documentary “Harvest of Shame.” But the days when American-born workers would voluntarily pick crops for a pittance are long gone, and farm labor has been replaced extensively – if not exclusively – by immigrants, many of them undocumented.

As this month’s cover story notes, despite the popularity of racist anti-immigrant laws that have caused farm labor shortages, the fact remains that absent decent wages, Americans will not voluntarily harvest crops and growers show absolutely no inclination to pay more for field workers. So the old standby of prison slave labor has been trotted out to fill the labor gap, which illustrates how prison slave labor is used to depress wages for all workers. Deprived of illegal immigrant laborers and without prisoners to fall back on, growers would, in the mythical magic marketplace, be forced to raise wages high enough to attract Americans willing to do hard manual labor in the fields. That, of course, is unlikely to happen in the real world.

We expect that eventually the use of prison slave labor on commercial farms will fade, because the number of prisoners is insufficient to meet the demand, and one or two incidents where prisoners escape and commit crimes will raise the question of whether public safety is being sacrificed for private profit. Also, the other issue that has historically stunted the use of slavery of all kinds, chattel and prison alike, is the fact that slaves make poor employees as they are not vested in the work they perform. Unlike wage slaves who are free to starve if they fail to earn a living, the prisoner laborer has a guaranteed bed and meals regardless of how little or much they work, and their wages are miniscule or non-existent.

As reported in this issue of PLN, we recently won a public records lawsuit against the Washington DC DOC. Censorship and public records litigation keep our two staff attorneys, Lance Weber and Alissa Hull, increasingly busy. Despite our considerable success in challenging unconstitutional censorship, prisons and jails across the country continue to censor PLN and withhold public records. The lack of transparency and accountability in detention facilities are among the leading causes of abuse. Restricting media access to and from prisons and jails is another. If you are a PLN subscriber and your subscription to PLN or any books you have ordered from us have been censored, please let us know so we can take appropriate steps.

Each year we spend a great deal of time and money finding new subscribers, mainly through sample mailings. One way we can save money on our outreach efforts is when you, our existing subscribers, let others know about PLN and recommend that they subscribe. The higher our number of subscribers, the lower our per-issue costs. For the past five years, law libraries at all California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation facilities have subscribed to PLN. Those subscriptions expire with this issue, which means California prisoners will now have to either buy their own subscriptions or receive gift subscriptions to continue reading PLN.

We have continued to receive reports of PLN and our books being censored in California state prisons. If you are a current or former PLN subscriber who has had your PLN subscription or PLN book order censored or denied by CDCR officials, please contact us with details and send us copies of all supporting documentation, such as grievance responses.

Lastly, we have received many letters and e-mails expressing condolences for the loss of Nelly, our office mascot. I would like to thank everyone who has contacted us. Nelly is sorely missed but lives on in our memories, even if our office is lonelier without her.
Enjoy this issue of PLN and please encourage others to subscribe.

 

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