by Paul Wright
For anyone who has done time, the obscene prices at the prison or jail commissary are always a source of complaint and wonder. Complaint because they are so high, and wonder because they are so untethered from any reasonable level of profit or reality. As this issue’s cover story notes, prices have increased over the years as commissary services have been privatized and taken over by for-profit companies like Keefe, Aramark, Summit and others.
In a normal market context, high prices are generally not an issue because businesses have competition; if their prices are too high, customers will buy elsewhere. Not so in prisons and jails where, as with other forms of financial exploitation (including phones, video calling, money transfers, e-messaging, etc.), privately-run commissaries rely on government-granted monopoly contracts with no competition to ensure prisoners can be ruthlessly price-gouged. In exchange, the companies usually kick back a percentage of their revenue to the contracting corrections agency – the same model used in the prison phone industry.
These practices have grown and worsened over the past two decades with the rise of a police state premised on the notion of paying for itself on the backs of the policed. Prisoners are not thought of as consumers, yet in reality they are the most vulnerable and victimized of all consumers because they are deprived of economic choices due to the reality of their captivity, and corrections officials view them and their families as economic engines – essentially piggy banks. This is just one of the many forms of exploitation prisoners are subjected to, which PLN is dedicated to reporting and exposing, and challenging through our Stop Prison Profiteering project.
By now our readers should have received a summer fundraising appeal from me. Normally we do our annual fundraiser later in the year, which we still plan on doing. But as I mentioned in last month’s editorial, in May 2018 we lost our appeal before the Eleventh Circuit in our challenge to the Florida DOC’s statewide censorship of PLN, supposedly based on our advertising content. We have been busy since then preparing our petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as gathering supporters for amicus briefs.
Our hard work is paying off, with over 70 confirmed amici partners thus far. However, the downside is this has been a huge drain on our limited resources as we fight this struggle. We need your help to win! For the past nine years we have spared no effort to ensure that Florida prisoners can receive Prison Legal News. We are literally at the last stage of an almost decade-long battle. If you can make a donation to help support an independent press that reports on criminal justice issues, please do so. Every donation helps no matter how small or large.
Things are always busy at HRDC, but this summer is busier than usual as we work on projects ranging from our Florida DOC appeal and suing a local jail for holding children in solitary confinement to prison phone justice, investigative journalism, public records projects and producing new books, among other things. Your support makes all of this possible, and over the past 28 years it has been your support that has allowed us to expand the advocacy work we are able to do on behalf of prisoners and their families.
Lastly, Criminal Legal News, our new publication, continues to grow and has been very well received with more than 1,000 subscribers already. We did not expect it to be so popular! It is obvious that it meets a real need and is providing information prisoners and criminal justice advocates can use. If you have not already done so, please consider subscribing to CLN if you are interested in criminal law and procedure, habeas corpus, prosecutorial issues and police-related misconduct and litigation.
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