For the past 26 years PLN has reported on conditions within the Florida Department of Corrections that have generally ranged from horrible to abysmal in a system long characterized by medical neglect, brutality, corruption and murder by prison officials, and long-time indifference or outright hostility by the governor and legislature. This month’s cover story is merely the latest installment in the sordid history of the Florida DOC. Sadly, Florida prisoners will not be able to read it. Since 2009 state officials have banned all issues of PLN, purportedly due to our advertising content but in reality as a thinly-veiled attempt to prevent Florida prisoners from reading about prison news and legal decisions they can use to help themselves.
Given that the Florida DOC is a prison system that murders prisoners with impunity, it should come as no surprise that government officials who do not respect the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution have no concern about the First Amendment, either. PLN filed suit over the Florida DOC’s censorship practices, and following a bench trial in January 2015, Judge Mark Walker upheld the ban on PLN – though also found due process violations by prison officials.
PLN has since appealed the court’s decision and is now represented by a legal team headed by Paul Clement, the former Solicitor General of the United States, and Michael McGinley with the law firm of Bancroft PLLC in Washington, D.C.; Randall Berg and Dante Trevisani with the Florida Justice Institute; Benjamin Stevenson with the ACLU of Florida; and Lance Weber and Sabarish Neelakanta with the Human Rights Defense Center. Three groups of amicus submitted friend of the court briefs on PLN’s behalf in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. One amicus brief was filed by media and press groups, one by retired corrections professionals and one by law professors, all urging the appellate court to reverse the dismissal of PLN’s censorship claim and remand the case to the lower court for entry of an injunction. We will report the outcome of the appeal once it is decided.
As you read this month’s cover story, you can determine for yourself what Florida prison officials have to hide and what they don’t want prisoners to know. Kudos to the Florida media, especially the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, for devoting the time and resources to expose the horrific conditions and abuse that affect Florida prisoners. Alas, while the media is concerned, the legislature and governor’s office, which are responsible for creating and perpetuating these egregious conditions, do little or nothing. Likewise, the police and prosecutors who have done such an efficient job of filling Florida’s prisons with over 100,000 prisoners are unwilling to investigate and prosecute the guards and other DOC staff who murder prisoners or allow them to die due to inadequate medical care – a long-running tradition of impunity that continues unabated.
As this issue of PLN goes to press we are in the process of finalizing two new books, which are updates to previous titles produced by PLN Publishing. First, we are releasing the Prison Education Guide by Christopher Zoukis, a PLN contributing writer. The book includes updated sources for prisoners seeking a distance education, including college courses. Second is the much-awaited second edition of The Habeas Citebook: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel by Brandon Sample and Alissa Hull. Both titles will be available for shipping by March 1 and will cost $49.95, postpaid. You can order advance copies now and they will be shipped immediately upon arrival from the printer.
We continue to seek nonfiction research and reference books of interest to prisoners from qualified authors. I will note that all the books published by PLN Publishing have been written by current or former prisoners. If you have a book manuscript that fits within the criteria of what we are seeking to publish, please send a book proposal to PLN, attention Susan Schwartzkopf, and provide a summary of the project and the author’s qualifications to write it, in less than 500 words. Again, we are only looking for nonfiction research and reference books.
On a final and very sad note, on November 6, 2015, Keith William DeBlasio died at the age of 48 of a heart attack in Asheville, North Carolina. I met Keith not long after I got out of prison at a conference in 2004. He had been a PLN subscriber while in federal prison for passing $200,000 worth of forged cashier’s checks. While incarcerated he was raped multiple times by his cellmate and contracted HIV. Keith was a tireless advocate for prison reform and prisoners’ rights. He played a major role in the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, urging the Federal Communications Commission to cap the cost of prison and jail phone calls. Keith also testified before the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, telling the story of how he was raped in prison while federal prison officials did nothing, and how he contracted HIV as a result. He told of being released from prison with no medication and over $1,800 a month in medication costs for an incurable illness that left him too sick to work.
Keith was fairly conservative politically; he always had a good perspective on organizing conservative voters and legislators on criminal justice issues, and was very successful at doing so. He was as tireless as he was passionate about the need for criminal justice reform at all levels. Keith will be sorely missed, and the criminal justice community is a poorer place with his passing.
This issue of PLN is dedicated to Keith and his memory, and I will close with the questions that Keith asked at the end of his testimony before the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission: “Why did I receive this life sentence? And why doesn’t anyone have to answer for their actions? At this point, I can only ask why.”
Keith’s sentence ended on November 6, 2015, his questions still unanswered.
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