On July 25, 2013, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), a national organization dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism, upholding high standards of ethics in that field and protecting First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and the press, announced the Human Rights Defense Center was the recipient of the SPJ's annual First Amendment Award.
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization of Prison Legal News, is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people held in U.S. detention facilities.
PLN has been repeatedly censored by prisons and jails nationwide, resulting in PLN and HRDC filing numerous lawsuits to protect their rights under the First Amendment. Currently, ten state Departments of Correction are under court orders and/or consent decrees in PLN suits, as well as a number of county jails. [See, e.g., PLN, May 2010, p.8].
"The organization's advocacy and legal action has resulted in court victories for publishers and hundreds of thousands of prisoners all over the U.S.," the SPJ noted.
HRDC was nominated for the SPJ's First Amendment Award by Ian Urbina, Washington correspondent for the New York Times. Prior recipients of the award have included U.S. Supreme Court Justices William Brennan and William Douglas.
"It is a monumental challenge to defend First Amendment rights outside prison walls, where people often have access to resources such as legal assistance and the press. Defending First Amendment rights for the captive population of U.S. prisoners is a multilayered struggle that is both unpopular and underreported – even when it involves the core First Amendment issue of how and to what extent the government can restrict what its citizens may read. This transcends the fact that those citizens are incarcerated, as there is no footnote to the First Amendment that excludes people who are held in prisons, jails or other detention facilities," Urbina stated in his nomination letter.
"HRDC is greatly honored to be recognized for this prestigious award by the Society of Professional Journalists," said Paul Wright, executive director and founder of the Human Rights Defense Center, and editor of PLN. "Someday we hope to live in a country that respects the freedom of the press, where our publications are not censored because we criticize the government's routine violation of fundamental human rights. Until then, we will continue to demand that the constitutional rights of the independent media be respected."
HRDC will be recognized at the President's Installation Banquet at the SPJ's Excellence in Journalism conference on August 26, 2013 in Anaheim, California.
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