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From the Editor

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

As this issue of PLN goes to press the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced that on October 22, 2015, they will be issuing rules regulating all prison and jail telephone calls, including setting rate caps for debit and prepaid calls of $.11 per minute at prisons and $.14 to $.22 per minute at jails, plus banning most ancillary fees, among other reforms. We will report the details in an upcoming issue of PLN.

The critical point is that after the prison phone issue has languished on its docket for 12 years, the FCC has acted. In 2011, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes Prison Legal News, founded the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice with the Center for Media Justice and Working Narratives, with the goal of reducing the cost of prison and jail telephone calls. We are proud that has finally happened, and we would like to thank all of our readers and supporters over the past four years who have donated to and supported our efforts. The FCC also announced it will be revisiting prison phone issues within the next two years.

But more work remains to be done. HRDC has long advocated for prison phone calls in the $.05 per minute range with no ancillary fees and no kickbacks to prison and jail officials in exchange for monopoly contracts. We fully expect the telecoms and their government allies to try to subvert and evade the FCC rules, and attempt to continue exploiting prisoners and their families. We will also be continuing our efforts to get prison systems to end the kickback system and bid contracts on the basis of which company can provide the best service for the lowest cost to the consumer who actually pays the bill.

With their obscene profits limited by the FCC ruling, the prison and jail telecoms are already seeking to monetize prisoners and their families by exploiting them through video visitation and money transfer fees. HRDC is ready to pursue them into those realms as well, but we lack the financial means to do so. The FCC’s cap on phone rates is going to put hundreds of millions of dollars back into the pockets of prisoners and their families. If you want to keep it there, please make a donation to HRDC to fund the next phase of our work on this issue. Except for some very modest grants in 2009 and 2011 from the now-defunct Funding Exchange, the Stern Foundation, the Sonya Staff Foundation and the Media and Democracy Fund, we have received no foundation funding to carry out the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice. Instead, we have relied on support from you, our readers, and a cy pres award from a court in Washington State. Therefore, please make a donation to support the campaign.

By now readers should have received our 2015 annual fundraiser packet which includes HRDC’s annual report as well as media articles about PLN and HRDC and our activities, plus much more. Please make a donation to support our work and encourage others to do so. At the end of the day, no one else is going to give you as much prison reform bang for your buck as HRDC will.

Since 1995 when the Bureau of Prisons opened its ADX supermax, we have reported on the facility. And for over 20 years it has not disappointed those of us who predicted it would be an ongoing human rights violation. This month’s cover story on the torture and abuse of mentally ill prisoners is a well-documented overview of how the ADX operates. The only reason this much is known about it is because of a lawsuit challenging the conditions. The other constant about the ADX is that since about 2004 it has liked to censor PLN. At first ADX officials censored all publications that mentioned prisons or prisoners, and after we sued them they stopped for a while; now they censor PLN when we report on conditions in the ADX. Next month’s issue will report on a federal lawsuit we recently filed over censorship at the ADX.

The upside of having published for 25 years is that we have made many friends and supporters along the way. The downside is that because no one lives forever, people die and are mourned. Over the years I was in prison, I corresponded with many lawyers around the country. One of those lawyers, who was also one of PLN’s earliest subscribers, was Elizabeth Fink in New York City. While still in law school, Liz began representing the prisoners of Attica who were tortured and massacred in 1971 after guards and police stormed the facility following the prisoner uprising. Liz filed a class-action lawsuit in 1974 and litigated it until 2000 when the state settled the case for $12 million. [See: PLN, June 2000, p.12]. Frank Smith, one of the leaders of the Attica uprising who survived and who was brutally tortured by guards in the aftermath of the prison being retaken, was her long-time paralegal on the case. “Ghosts of Attica” is a great documentary film that lays out this story.

After I was released from prison I met Liz numerous times, always in New York City, and was always surprised at how cheerful she was regardless of the circumstances. In addition to the Attica case, Liz represented political dissidents, prisoners and other unpopular clients, often with great results.

Liz died on September 22, 2015 at the age of 70. She will be sorely missed. She was a people’s lawyer of the best kind. We at HRDC send her friends and family our best wishes and condolences. This issue of PLN is dedicated to the memory of Liz Fink, one of the very first prisoners’ rights attorneys in America.

Please enjoy this issue of PLN and make a donation to HRDC and encourage others to do so as well. Can’t think of a holiday gift for your loved ones? Get them a book from PLN!