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From the Editor

This issue’s cover story on release debit cards continues our coverage of this relatively recent phenomenon which exploits prisoners and arrestees by charging them fees to access their own money and all too often takes all or most of their funds when they are released from prison or jail. The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), PLN’s parent organization, has been on the forefront of reporting these abuses; we are also on the forefront of litigation challenging release debit cards and seeking justice for their victims. If you or someone you know has had their money taken and then returned on a debit card that charged fees to access the funds, or were unable to access the funds at all, please follow the instructions at the end of the cover story and contact us to let us know what happened as we want both potential plaintiffs to challenge these practices and people who can tell their stories. A copy of the paperwork provided with the debit cards, and the cards themselves, are also helpful.

We also have new books in the PLN bookstore. The Federal Prison Handbook by Chris Zoukis tells readers everything they need or want to know about the federal Bureau of Prisons. Plus we have Win Your Case by Gerry Spence, one of America’s best trial lawyers for civil and criminal cases alike, which explains what it takes to win cases in court. And a reminder that The Habeas Citebook, second edition by Brandon Sample is also available and has been getting rave reviews since it first appeared at the end of last year. If you have not yet ordered a copy, ordering information is in the back of this issue of PLN.

As I write this editorial, President Trump has been in office around 3 weeks and has been busy issuing a flurry of executive orders and making new federal appointments. The most disastrous one so far for prisoners and their families (the presidency is still young) has been promoting Ajit Pai from Federal Communications Commissioner to chairman of the FCC. During HRDC’s longstanding efforts through the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice we secured numerous victories at the FCC, including capping the cost of prison and jail phone calls, banning most ancillary fees, etc. Those orders were challenged by prison telecom companies and some corrections agencies, and stayed by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

HRDC and several other organizations intervened in the appeal, and on February 6, 2017 the DC Circuit heard oral argument in the case. A few days before oral argument, Chairman Pai ordered the FCC’s lawyers not to defend the rate caps in court; thus, it fell to HRDC’s attorney, Andrew Schwartzman from Georgetown School of Law’s Center for Public Representation, to defend the FCC’s rate caps. It is pretty much unprecedented for a federal agency to refuse to defend its own order, which was noted by the appellate judges. If HRDC and allied groups had not intervened then no one would have defended the rate caps for prison and jail phone calls.

It is thanks to your support that HRDC was able to intervene in the federal appeals court and defend the FCC’s orders, as well as tackle exploitive release debit cards. If you can afford to make a donation to support our work, especially on a monthly sustainer basis, that would be a huge help. Things have never been good for prisoners and their families regardless of who is in the White House, but things may get worse than they were before. HRDC and PLN will still be here reporting the news and fighting for the rights of prisoners and their families, but we need your help to make it happen. You can donate online at, by mail at HRDC, P.O. Box 1151, Lake Worth, FL 33460 and by phone at (561) 360-2523.

Enjoy this issue of PLN and please encourage others to subscribe, donate and purchase books from our bookstore, all of which helps fund our criminal justice reform efforts. 


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