One downside of publishing a magazine like Prison Legal News for 26 years is that in some respects we are not covering a one-off or isolated story but rather are reporting an ongoing and developing issue. This month’s cover story about the epic abuse, corruption and brutality in the Los Angeles County jail system is the third or fourth major feature article on that topic that we have published in the past two decades, along with dozens of smaller stories related to individual cases of abuse, neglect and misconduct. Jails are often overlooked in discussions about criminal justice reform, but the Los Angeles County jail, which confines some 22,000 prisoners on any given day, is by comparison larger than the state prison systems of Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island, combined.
The poor state of American jails is made readily apparent by cover stories such as this one and similar articles we have run on jail systems in New York City, Sacramento, New Orleans, Dallas and other jurisdictions. The ongoing body counts of prisoners attributable to abuse, medical neglect and cultures of violence and impunity are characterized by their apolitical nature: They continue and intensify regardless of the political affiliation of the public officials nominally responsible for conditions in local jails. This exemplifies America’s bi-partisan policy on criminal justice. Looking back at prior PLN coverage of these issues in these same facilities, the only thing that changes are the names of the prisoners and some, but not all, of the staff members involved. I suspect that when we run the next feature story on abuse and corruption in Los Angeles County’s jail system it will be similar to this one.
Longtime readers of PLN may recall that we began publishing books in 2009 when we published Jon Marc Taylor’s instructive resource guide, the Prisoners’ Guerrilla Handbook to Correspondence Courses in the U.S. and Canada (PGH). It was the third edition of that title and built on the success of his prior two editions. I am sad to report that Jon died of a heart attack at the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, Missouri on December 27, 2015 at the age of 54. He had earlier suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to write or speak. Jon had been imprisoned since he was 19, serving a 40-year sentence for a series of rapes and robberies he committed with his father in Indiana and Missouri. Once in prison he strove to better himself through education and became a powerful advocate for prison education programs, moreso after Congress and President Clinton eliminated Pell Grants for prisoners – which largely ended the prospect of prison-based higher education courses.
By writing PGH, Jon wanted to share his experiences in getting a higher education behind bars: He obtained a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a doctorate while in prison. Jon authored dozens of articles on prison education as well as three editions of PGH yet he was continually denied parole by the Missouri Parole Board and denied a medical commutation even after he was left paralyzed and debilitated by a stroke.
I corresponded with Jon and spoke with him on the phone, and he was always upbeat and optimistic even when he had little reason to be. I am very proud of the fact that PGH was the first book published by PLN Publishing, and that it has served as an inspiration and guide to countless prisoners over the years. As PGH became a bit outdated and Jon was too physically incapacitated to work on a fourth edition of the book, one of the prisoners inspired by his work, Christopher Zoukis, stepped forward to write a new version. We are proud to announce that Christopher’s book, the Prison Education Guide, is now available from PLN and ready to ship for $49.95 postpaid. I am sorry Jon did not live to see this new book title but I know he would be proud that his work and legacy live on and that others are carrying the torch of prison education forward.
As this issue of PLN goes to press, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), our parent organization, has submitted a reply comment to the Federal Communications Commission on the need to regulate and reform the cost of phone calls made from prisons, jails and other detention facilities. HRDC is also calling on the FCC to regulate video visitation services and not allow prisons and jails to charge for the cost of providing video visits. In response to a prior FCC order that caps the cost of prison phone calls, telecom companies have filed suit in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the rate caps. HRDC and several other organizations are intervening in an effort to uphold the FCC’s order, which, barring a stay by the court, is set to go into effect this month.
All of HRDC’s comments filed with the FCC since 2007, which are many, are available on our websites (www.humanrightsdefensecenter.org and www.prisonphonejustice.org). I would like to thank everyone who has supported us in this long struggle to bring relief to prisoners and their families from systemic exploitation by greedy prison phone companies and their government collaborators and conspirators.
If you can make a donation to support our advocacy efforts on behalf of prisoners and their families then please do so, as it makes a huge difference and enables us to do the hard work that no one else is doing. At the end of the day, the only thing that holds us back is a lack of resources, not a lack of problems or the expertise to tackle them. Enjoy this issue of PLN and please encourage others to subscribe.
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