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From the Editor

Over the past 22 years Prison Legal News has been represented by dozens of lawyers around the country in a variety of cases, mostly dealing with censorship and public records requests. We have met many if not most of our attorneys because they subscribed to PLN, based on their interest in criminal justice issues and the fact that they are generally litigating prison and jail cases. That was how we happened to meet Brian Barnard.

Brian was one of the very few civil rights lawyers in Utah. When jails in Utah and the Utah Department of Corrections censored PLN in the mid 1990s, Brian was the person we turned to for advice and then legal representation. He represented PLN in five separate censorship suits over the years – four against jails and one against the Utah DOC. Brian had successfully represented prisoners in various cases since the mid 1970s; he was often the attorney of last resort for citizens in Utah whose rights were violated by government officials.

I am saddened to report that Brian died in his sleep on September 4, 2012. While in many jurisdictions there are dozens if not hundreds of lawyers who are capable and willing to represent plaintiffs in civil and constitutional rights cases, in others, like Utah, there are very few who can do so. Brian represented PLN for 8 or 9 years before I actually met him in person in 2005. He was especially fond of the First Amendment, and represented clients on issues ranging from the right to protest to establishment clause claims, and, of course, prison and jail censorship cases. It is fair to say that without Brian’s tenacious and successful advocacy, the free speech rights of Utah’s citizens, in and out of prison, would be greatly diminished. This issue of PLN is dedicated to Brian Barnard and his memory as a defender of free speech and the downtrodden.

This month’s cover story reports on efforts to stem the use of solitary confinement in the U.S. Since PLN first started publishing in 1990, control units and sensory deprivation have been high on the list of evils we have targeted for exposure and elimination. The trend towards widespread and massive use of solitary confinement, including the construction of specialized prisons for that purpose, started in the mid 1980s and accelerated in the 1990s. Interestingly, the use of solitary confinement began to increase around the time federal courts held that prison officials could not arbitrarily beat, whip, flog or physically abuse prisoners.

Despite knowing for centuries that prolonged segregation drives people insane, federal and state prison officials duly embarked upon the mass implementation of solitary confinement for their prison populations, which in no uncertain terms has the goal of destroying people who are held in isolation cells for extended periods of time.

The luster is finally fading from the supermax experiment, but as the cover story notes, having invested billions in their construction it is not an easy habit to give up, and it remains to be seen what will actually happen given the limited utility of supermax facilities for other purposes. Exposing solitary confinement as the human rights abuse it is has been long overdue, and PLN’s steady coverage of this topic over the past 22 years has contributed to the increase in awareness of this issue. The Human Rights Defense Center submitted formal comments, which are available on our website, to the U.S. Senate subcommittee that held the hearing on solitary confinement last June.

While we are on the topic of long-standing abuses, the Prison Phone Justice Campaign continues to pick up steam. Members of the coalition to end exorbitant charges for prison phone calls have met with the chairperson and several members of the Federal Communications Commission to act on the pending Wright petition, which would cap interstate prison phone rates. We have also met with several members of Congress to express our concerns, and they in turn have urged the FCC to act on the Wright petition.

Since PLN began publicizing the campaign in June 2012, over 200 prisoners and their family members have contact-ed the FCC about the cost of prison phone calls. These letters are available online on the FCC’s public docket. If you or your family are negatively affected by high prison phone rates, please write to the FCC as described in the ad on page 25 of this issue of PLN, and urge them to act on the Wright petition to cap the rates for interstate prison phone calls (the FCC only has jurisdiction over interstate rates).

PLN/HRDC, along with our allies at Working Narratives and the Center for Media Justice, are spearheading the struggle to end exorbitant prison phone rates. We are gathering updated prison phone contract and commission data for all 50 states and making this information publicly available on the campaign’s website, We are also working to educate the FCC and state utility commissions, and are urging them to cap prison phone rates. Plus we are networking with the media and other organizations to take action on this issue. Unfortunately this requires staff time – a lot of it – plus expenses for things like travel, website design and maintenance, mailings, etc.

We need to raise $60,000 within the next four months to be able to sustain (and hopefully increase) this level of activity. By now, PLN readers should have received our annual fundraiser letter. Given the importance of the prison phone justice issue, we are dedicating this year’s annual fundraiser solely to funding our share of the Prison Phone Justice Campaign. Donations will primarily go towards hiring a full-time coordinator and covering campaign expenses.

The injustices associated with the kickbacks and high costs of prison phone calls are well-documented, and PLN has been instrumental in exposing abuses in the prison phone industry for the past two decades (see the article on page 20 for a review and update on this issue). There is finally a critical mass of people and organizations working to end excessive prison phone rates, and we now need additional resources to follow through.

We obtained small grants from the Proteus Fund and the Funding Exchange to cover the start-up costs for the Prison Phone Justice Campaign, but need more if we are going to sustain it. We are confronting both the prison industrial complex and telecom companies, and the prison phone industry alone is worth billions of dollars to those who exploit prisoners and their families by gouging them on the cost of prison phone calls.

If you think the time has come to end this abuse, you can do two things right now. First, if you have not already done so, write a letter to the FCC and tell them how high prison phone rates have negatively affected you, your family and/or your friends, and why action is needed to cap the rates for interstate prison phone calls. Second, if you are able, send a donation to PLN to help fund the Prison Phone Justice Campaign. No amount is too small. If each of PLN’s 7,000 subscribers donated only $10, we would surpass our funding goal of $60,000. This is your chance to stand up and take action to end one of the more egregious abuses within the U.S. criminal justice system – one that affects all prisoners and their families.

Lastly, as the holiday season approaches, please consider giving gift subscriptions of PLN or purchasing some of the books we distribute, which make great holiday gifts. Enjoy this issue of PLN and please encourage others to subscribe.

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