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From the Editor

by Paul Wright

The past 40 years have seen a massive rise in the use of solitary confinement throughout the United States as a means of psychological torture to destroy people. As federal courts enjoined official means of physical torture (prisoners were being flogged in the yard of the Tennessee State Penitentiary as recently as 1974), prison officials sought ways to inflict pain that were not as physical as beatings, floggings, electrocution, etc., yet served the same purpose of enforcing conformity and control. No other country in the world, or in human history, has engaged in the infliction of solitary confinement and psychological torture on prisoners on either the scale or scope as the United States.

We have reported extensively on the widespread use of solitary confinement in American prisons over the past 27 years and how that practice increased in the 1990s as entire prisons were designed and built on the premise of torturing prisoners through prolonged solitary confinement. One of the leaders in that movement was the state of Colorado (honorable mentions also go to Wisconsin, Virginia, California and Texas), but recently Colorado has made the most progress in reducing its solitary confinement population. Whether the state will effectively eliminate solitary remains to be seen, but its director appears to have made a strong commitment to do just that – which should not only be encouraged in Colorado but also emulated nationally.

Each year the Human Rights Defense Center launches our annual fundraiser, and we are doing so with this issue. By the end of September all active PLN subscribers should receive our annual report for 2016 and news clips as well as a review of the advocacy work HRDC has done on behalf of prisoners and other victims of the criminal justice system during the past year. If you can afford to make a donation above and beyond the cost of a subscription, please do so; every donation, no matter how small, makes a difference and goes towards our work which is real and tangible.

In addition to our fundraiser, I would like to thank all the donors who contributed to our William Trine Law Fellowship, which allowed us to hire a new HRDC staff attorney: Masimba Mutamba. Masimba has been with us since February, and as this issue of PLN goes to press he is litigating four cases around the country and working on several more. This is one way that donors are able to make a real difference in the struggle for criminal justice reform as well as honoring the legacy of civil rights pioneers like HRDC board member William Trine. Check out the William Trine Law Fellowship notice included in this issue.

We are having an exciting year at HRDC, and in addition to our new staff attorney are pleased to announce that within the next few months we will be launching a new magazine, Criminal Legal News, which will focus on criminal law plus news and developments related to police and prosecutors at the front end of the criminal justice system. All PLN subscribers will receive a free sample issue of our new publication, and we hope you will consider subscribing to it as well.

For years our readers have asked for more criminal law news, and rather than expand the coverage in PLN we thought it best to start a new magazine that focuses on police, prosecutors and criminal law. When CLN launches there will be some modest reshuffling of PLN’s content as we will shift our coverage of sentencing issues, parole and probation over to CLN. PLN will focus exclusively on conditions of confinement and litigation involving prisons and jails, while CLN will report on criminal law and litigation concerning police and prosecutors.

Both publications will bring readers the same high-quality, cutting-edge advocacy journalism you have grown accustomed to in PLN. We are looking forward to launching the new magazine and expanding our criminal justice news coverage to the entire justice system.

If you can afford to make a donation to support all the work we do, please do so. If you cannot, but know people who can, please encourage them to make a donation on your behalf during our annual fundraiser. 

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