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From the Editor

Welcome to PLN's anniversary issue. This issue marks 23 years and 277 issues since Prison Legal News first began publishing in May 1990. When PLN started, I didn’t think we would last this long or grow as much as we have; I also didn’t think the prison population would double over the next two decades, or that the overall living conditions for prisoners would deteriorate so significantly. A month before we published the first issue of PLN, Washington state became the first state to enact sex offender registration and civil commitment laws, and the Supreme Court had just held that prisoners could be involuntarily drugged without a court order. The nation’s first “three strikes” law, another Washington state innovation, was enacted three years later.

When PLN started publishing in 1990 we were a 10-page photocopied newsletter with an initial mailing list of 75 prospective subscribers, a monthly budget of $50 and an all-volunteer staff. Today, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes PLN, has nine full-time employees – including two attorneys – with offices in two states. PLN has grown to 64 pages and we now have around 7,000 monthly subscribers. If the Internet existed in 1990 its users were confined to a few members of the military and academia. PLN’s website currently has tens of thousands of prison- and jail-related articles and receives over 1 million visitors a year – which gives us an impact and reach that otherwise would be impossible.

Sadly, though, the rest of the penal press has not been so fortunate. When we began publishing there were dozens of independent prisoner rights magazines and newsletters.
Most have folded over the years. The crisis in the prison media has left a huge void that needs to be filled; there is an urgent demand for more prison media and information by and about prisoners. It is no surprise that as the nation’s prison and jail population doubled over the past two decades, the prisoner media that chronicled, supported and highlighted the work and struggles of prisoners and their advocates largely collapsed.
There are various factors that contributed to the demise of the prison media, and economics is one reason, but an even larger problem has been repressive censorship by prisons and jails against independent prisoner publications. PLN has experienced more than its fair share of censorship, and we are the only publisher to regularly litigate when our publication or books are rejected by prison and jail officials.

We would like to thank all of our many readers over the years who have made donations to PLN, both large and small, as well as our volunteers, employees, supporters and the many attorneys who have represented HRDC and Prison Legal News.

In other news, by popular demand we are expanding our News in Brief section, beginning with this month’s issue. Enjoy this issue of PLN and please encourage others to subscribe.

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