From the Editor
by Paul Wright
This month’s cover story about the Washington Department of Corrections killing prisoner Ricardo Mejia through medical neglect is in many ways an old one. Over the past 24 years, PLN has run hundreds of articles about prisons and jails murdering prisoners through medical and mental health neglect, malpractice and deliberate indifference.
What is different about this story is that attorneys from the Human Rights Defense Center – the organization that publishes Prison Legal News – represented Mr. Mejia’s family and estate in obtaining some modicum of justice following his death, with the goal of trying to ensure it does not happen to other prisoners.
When PLN was founded in 1990, one of our goals was to be able to conduct public interest litigation involving the criminal justice system. Between 1993 and 2009, PLN filed a number of censorship and public records lawsuits around the country, many involving cutting-edge legal issues, which helped to ensure that the right of prisoners and publishers to send and receive information was respected, and brought a modest amount of transparency to the secrecy of government institutions.
In 2009 we created our litigation project, which allowed us to employ our first staff attorney to represent PLN in censorship and public records litigation as well as represent others in matters related to HRDC’s mission. Today, HRDC’s litigation project employs two full-time attorneys including Lance Weber, our litigation director, plus two full-time paralegals.
To date, HRDC attorneys have successfully represented the estates of two prisoners in Tennessee who died due to medical neglect involving private prison companies, the estate of a Pennsylvania prisoner who died from a lack of mental health treatment and the family of a prisoner brutally murdered by other prisoners at a private prison in Arizona. Those cases were all resolved by confidential agreements, which have not allowed us to report the outcomes; several were resolved pre-litigation.
The case involving Mr. Mejia is not subject to a confidentiality provision and is fully reported in this issue of PLN. An upcoming issue will report the results of a lawsuit against Corrections Corporation of America, which HRDC resolved in favor of a former prisoner whose baby was born prematurely and died while she was held at a CCA-run jail.
Due to our very limited resources, HRDC’s attorneys can only provide representation in a select number of cases; our current focus is on cases involving deaths, and as the cover story makes clear, where the facts of the case lend to larger public issues related to the need for prison reform. We would like to thank Mr. Mejia’s family for choosing HRDC to represent them and also our co-counsel, Jesse Wing at MacDonald Hoague & Bayless (MHB) in Seattle. Carrie Wilkinson, the director of our Washington Prison Phone Justice Campaign, also worked on the case while she was employed at MHB prior to joining HRDC.
We have a lot of exciting news this month. In addition to the resolution of Mr. Mejia’s wrongful death suit, we are very happy to announce that we are publishing the Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual by Dan Manville within the next few weeks. Since 2009, PLN has published two other books – the Prisoners’ Guerrilla Handbook to Correspondence Courses in the U.S. and Canada (3rd ed.) and The Habeas Citebook: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel. Our goal is to continue to publish high quality self-help, non-fiction reference books which are of interest to prisoners and will help them help themselves.
We are proud to be publishing the second edition of the Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual. Dan was HRDC’s first staff attorney; we have published his articles for many years, and he has represented PLN in censorship litigation dating back to 1999. Every prisoner in America is subject to prison and jail disciplinary hearings and needs to know his or her rights in order to enforce them. The book is in the final stages of production and we anticipate it will be available for shipping no later than November 15. If you want to pre-order your copy and have it shipped immediately upon receipt, order it now for $49.95 — see the ad on p. 53.
Additionally, it is time for the annual PLN and HRDC fundraiser. We recently realized that many people, including long-time PLN subscribers, are not aware of the full scope of our activities on behalf of prisoners and their families. This year we are sending everyone a copy of our 2013 annual report and some news articles about PLN that provide a detailed overview of everything we do on an ongoing basis.
Our fundraising goal this year is $75,000 to help cover the costs of the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice. Thanks to the help of our readers and supporters, HRDC was able to play an integral leadership role in getting the Federal Communications Commission to cap the cost of interstate phone calls from prisons and jails. We are currently trying to get the FCC to extend those rate caps to the costs of intrastate (in-state) phone calls, which make up the majority of calls from detention facilities.
We incur extensive costs in obtaining the phone contracts, calling rates, ancillary fees and commission data that have underpinned the FCC campaign, and most importantly, everyone in the advocacy community has relied on our data. Travel expenses for testifying before the FCC, meeting with FCC commissioners and staff, etc. all add up, and we have a full-time staff member working on the campaign.
Donations are urgently needed to support our efforts; your financial help has made the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice possible, and we are close to achieving significant reforms beyond the interstate rate caps. If you and your family are tired of being gouged and ruthlessly exploited by prison telecom companies and the prisons and jails that take kickbacks in exchange for telephone monopolies, then please donate to HRDC so we can continue the fight.
This issue of PLN includes an ad describing how to contact the FCC about the high costs of in-state prison phone calls and the negative impact those costs have had on you and your family. Comments can be submitted in writing by prisoners and online by non-prisoners. This is the time to make your voice heard – please let others know about the need to contact the FCC and to donate to HRDC and PLN so we can maintain the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice!
Lastly, as the holidays approach, nothing makes for better gifts than a subscription to PLN and some of the books we distribute, plus you can still take advantage of our Subscription Madness offer (see the ad on page 25).
Enjoy this issue of PLN and please encourage others to subscribe.
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