by Paul Wright
You are reading the last issue of Prison Legal News for 2018. This month’s cover story reports on the widespread practice of prison and jail officials censoring books, magazines and correspondence sent to prisoners. Increasingly, that includes restrictions or bans on books mailed from non-profit, volunteer-run Books to Prisoners (BTP) programs around the country, which send free literature to prisoners.
The first BTP program began in Seattle in the early 1970s as part of Left Bank Books, a radical book collective that was active in the liberation struggles of the day, which is still around and mailing books to prisoners almost 50 years later.
HRDC has long had good working relationships with many of the nation’s BTP programs, starting with the fact that they sent me books while I was incarcerated. In the early days of Prison Legal News, many of our volunteers who folded, stapled and mailed our then 10-page, photocopied newsletter were also BTP volunteers, or vice versa. When BTP projects around the nation gathered in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in 2007 for their first national conference, I was their keynote speaker. I frequently consult with BTP volunteers on censorship issues, and Michelle Dillon, our public records manager in Seattle, is a former BTP employee and current volunteer.
Books to Prisoners programs have long played a vital role in ensuring prisoners can receive reading materials even if they are indigent and can’t afford to buy them. Many an abandoned, discarded or donated book has found a home with an interested prisoner through BTP projects. Corrections officials are generally hostile to BTPs because they are willing to help prisoners and give them access to reading materials the government doesn’t provide in institutional libraries; this may help explain increasing censorship policies in prisons and jails.
In related news, the State of Florida recently sought an extension until December 3, 2018 to file their reply/opposition to HRDC’s petition for certiorari asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear our appeal challenging the Florida DOC’s statewide ban on Prison Legal News, ostensibly due to some of our ad content. [See the article on p.12]. Our final reply brief will be due 14 days after that, and we expect the Court to issue an order either granting or denying our petition by the end of January 2019. We have been fighting this censorship battle in Florida since 2009, and have relied on the support of our readers to keep the fight going as long as we have.
If you have not already done so, please donate to our annual fundraiser to help the Human Rights Defense Center continue its advocacy work, cutting-edge journalism and litigation on behalf of prisoners and their families. We do not just need the support of people like you, we rely on it! If you have not yet received HRDC’s annual fundraiser packet, which includes our 2017 annual report, please contact us for one or you can find it on our website at: www.humanrightsdefensecenter.org.
Whether it is journalism, activism or litigation, HRDC is working hard to ensure that everyone is informed and up to date about the many and myriad human rights abuses of the American police state, as well as doing what we can to end those abuses. Your donations and support help make our work possible. If every person reading this editorial donated $1, we would easily exceed our goal of raising $100,000 this year. Even if you cannot make a donation to HRDC, perhaps others in your social circle can. Let them know about us! Many people read PLN either on the Internet or by borrowing a copy from their cellmate or neighbor. If you are one of those people and find our content interesting and useful, please consider making a donation.
Everyone at HRDC hopes our readers and supporters have a happy holiday season, and best wishes for a more militant New Year of greater struggle!
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