by Paul Wright
As the summer months wear on we are again reporting on the ongoing outrage of American prisons that are deliberately built without air conditioning in some of the hottest parts of the country. As an article in this issue of PLN notes, the death toll from heat exposure continues to climb in several states, all in the former Confederacy, which built prisons without climate-controlled cell blocks to intentionally subject prisoners to torturous conditions.
What is even more amazing is that in 2017 there is still debate as to whether or not exposing elderly and mentally ill prisoners to fatal heat levels can be considered “cruel and unusual punishment.” Also surprising is that guards are willing to work in such sweltering conditions and don’t consider it a workplace hazard. Even in punitive states like California, the employees are smart enough to avoid working in literal sweatshops even if that means prisoners get to enjoy air conditioning, too.
This issue’s cover story reports on the continuing abuses of civil asset forfeiture, whereby the government seizes money and property it claims may have been involved in criminal activity without actually convicting, or even prosecuting, anyone. While there have been some very modest reforms in a few states, overall the abuses continue with little pretense that civil forfeiture is just a means for police departments to enrich themselves at the expense of mostly-poor people who cannot afford to fight back.
This has become a common theme nationally, with almost every aspect of our criminal justice system being deliberately monetized – including debtors’ prisons, for-profit prison health care and food services, privatized probation, and exorbitant charges for phone calls, video visits and other correctional services.
On the Human Rights Defense Center’s news front, later this year we will be publishing a monthly magazine that focuses on criminal law and developments in all 50 states, called Criminal Legal News. We will inform readers of details as we get closer to publication. We are currently working on the background infrastructure of the magazine; all PLN subscribers will receive a free sample copy of the first issue of CLN.
I would like to thank our readers who send us their verdicts and settlements; we appreciate your contributions to our news reporting. Anytime you win or settle a case, we are interested in reporting it in PLN or on our website. Just send us the settlement or verdict and the last amended complaint, plus other relevant pleadings. Note that we cannot return any documents that you submit. Of all our news coverage, settlements are the toughest ones to report because they generally do not appear in the public record and are rarely disclosed by the mainstream news media.
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