From the Editor
by Paul Wright
With the holidays upon us, people outside of prison often think of holiday meals as times of joy and thankfulness for what they have in their lives. Where a shared meal around a dinner table with family and friends is viewed as a time for thanks and celebration, especially for those who are religious, holiday meals in prison are often an exercise in cruelty.
While prison food has long been the butt of jokes and complaints, the reality is that it has markedly deteriorated over the past 20 years. Not only is much of the food served to prisoners heavy on fats, starches and sodium, but it is often substandard, rotten and expired; to boot, many state prison systems have farmed out their food services to for-profit companies like Aramark, which, for a fixed price, will provide meals of questionable quality to prisoners while enriching themselves in the process. The less prisoners eat, the more money such companies make. Prisoners who observe religious faiths that have dietary restrictions face an even harsher reality of trying of maintain a healthy diet within the context of prison-imposed food.
This month’s cover story examines Aramark prison food services in Michigan and Ohio, which has left a bad taste in those states.
On October 22, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued an order in its Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that imposes significant limits on the phone rate price gouging to which prisoners and their families can be subjected. The details of the 362-page order are reported in this issue of PLN. The upshot is that the FCC has put hundreds of millions of dollars back into the pockets of prisoners and their families. Prison phone reform efforts are far from over, however, and much more remains to be done – but this is the most significant victory on this issue in 25 years.
The Human Rights Defense Center, PLN’s parent organization, co-founded and led the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, and the FCC cited our work and submissions over 100 times in its order. We need to be able to continue our level of data collection and analysis, and for that we require your donations and support.
We conduct one annual fundraiser so our readers are not bombarded with financial pleas throughout the year. Please make a contribution to help us continue this important work, and encourage others to subscribe to PLN and donate to HRDC. All donations are welcome and so are volunteers at our offices in Seattle, Washington and Lake Worth, Florida.
Nothing makes us realize both our mortality and how we are aging than seeing our friends die. I am saddened to report that on October 24, 2015, Alvin Bronstein, the founder and former director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project (NPP) from 1972-1995, died due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Al was a legendary figure in the American prison reform movement, and without exaggeration it is probably accurate to say no one else did so much to advance the cause of prisoners’ rights. The NPP was formed under his leadership and became a national powerhouse of prison and jail litigation, bringing hundreds of cases nationally, mostly focused on conditions of confinement. Such litigation transformed entire prison systems and brought them into the 19th century.
I first heard of Al in 1988, not long after I had gone to prison and obtained my first copy of the NPP Journal. I was amazed not only to hear about the lawsuits NPP had filed but the cases they had won and were winning. I did not meet Al in person until 2007 when I was out of prison, attending a prisoners’ rights conference in Texas. He was dynamic and witty as well as intelligent, and it was easy to see why he had been such a ferocious advocate for prisoners’ rights for so many decades. We wish his family the best and mourn for their loss with Al’s death. He will be both remembered and sorely missed.
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Enjoy this issue of PLN and please share it with others and encourage them to subscribe. Happy holidays from everyone at Prison Legal News and HRDC!
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