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From the Editor

by Paul Wright

By now all PLN subscribers should have received our fundraiser mailing which includes our 2016 annual report and details our many activities, ranging from publishing and litigation to advocacy and media outreach. This provides a great overview of the depth and breadth of everything we do. We rely on donors like you to fund our advocacy and activism above and beyond publishing Prison Legal News; for example, our Prison Phone Justice and Stop Prison Profiteering campaigns rely almost entirely on funding from our readers.

All donations, no matter how large or small, make a difference in the work we do. Contributions are tax deductible and will have a real-world impact on the lives of prisoners around the nation. Please encourage your friends and family to make donations to support our work as well. If your prison or jail phone bill has gone down in the past 5 years thanks to our Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, why not donate 20% of the savings so we can continue working on these issues?

About two or three weeks after receiving this copy of PLN, all our subscribers will receive a free introductory issue of Criminal Legal News, our new magazine which focuses on criminal law, policing, prosecutorial misconduct, sentencing, parole and probation. It has the same high-quality journalism that our readers have come to expect as well as our dedicated advocacy to protecting and defending the human rights of those enmeshed in the American police state. By the time you get your introductory copy of CLN the next issue will be in production – so subscribe soon to avoid missing any issues.

We will keep all prison and jail coverage in Prison Legal News while criminal law, habeas, police misconduct and sentencing issues will be covered in CLN. Ideally everyone interested in the criminal justice system will subscribe to both publications so they will have comprehensive front-to-back reporting on our justice system, from policing to reentry. Subscriptions to CLN will be $48 a year for prisoners and non-incarcerated individuals for 12 issues, and $96 a year for professionals and institutions. We are launching CLN at 40 pages to start, but the magazine will expand as we gain advertisers. We remain committed to having no more than 25% of each issue being paid ads with 75% news and criminal law content.

The cover story in this issue of PLN reports on the haphazard application of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, five years after the PREA standards went into effect and well over a decade since the law was enacted. We have long criticized PREA as weak and toothless, though it’s a good starting point. Alas, to date prison systems around the country all but acknowledge how integral systemic sexual abuse is as part of prison management, as a means of controlling and subjugating prisoners.

PREA is primarily a data collection statute, and one of its flaws is that it relies on self-reporting from correctional agencies with no independent oversight. With no one checking the data it should not be surprising if it isn’t accurate or reliable. The big surprise after PREA was enacted, even for experts like us, was the incredibly high number of sexual assaults committed by staff members against prisoners. What was not surprising, though, is the lackluster investigations and nonexistent or lenient punishments meted out to abusive prison and jail employees. Unfortunately the term “rape camp” is only used to describe prisons in the Balkans and other opponents of the United States, and not the many facilities in our own country where staff seem to view raping prisoners as a job perk or prerogative.

Our parent organization, the Human Rights Defense Center, continues to litigate cases nationally around prison and jail debit cards. If you have been released or are about to be released, and will receive a debit card with funds from your account that charges fees to access your own money, we want to hear from you as we are seeking plaintiffs to end these exploitive practices. Contact us with your information, experiences and documentation.

Enjoy this issue of PLN and the upcoming introductory issue of CLN. I hope you will make a contribution to further our work – our goal this year is to raise $75,000 to hire an investigative reporter to ramp up our criminal justice coverage. If every person receiving this copy of PLN donated just $5, we would meet our goal. Can you donate $5 to ensure timely investigative reporting on the American police state and mass incarceration, or do you think there is nothing left to say about our dysfunctional criminal justice system?

Thank you for your support and best wishes for the holidays. 

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