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The Results are in: Prison Legal News Reader Survey!

by Steve Horn

Prison Legal News has compiled the results of its last reader survey and this summary will report on the more compelling findings, which we will use to inform editorial decisions in forthcoming issues of the magazine. We extend our gratitude to Heidi Sadri, a student worker employed by PLN, for crunching the numbers and tallying the results of the survey – a lengthy and arduous task.

A total of 11,294 surveys were distributed to 8,777 prisoners and 2,517 non-prisoners. We received 527 responses, for a response rate of 4.67 percent. The majority of people who responded (57 percent) reported they had a high school or GED-level education, while over 30 percent indicated they had a college degree.

The vast majority of respondents were held in state prisons – 84 percent – with around 8.4 percent in federal prisons and 5.5 percent in local jails.

The most compelling findings of the 37-question survey centered around questions about a prospective new monthly magazine which is now being published by the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), PLN’s parent organization – Criminal Legal News (CLN), which began publishing in December 2017.

Nearly 84 percent of the survey responses were supportive of CLN, which covers criminal case law and news related to police, prosecutors, sentencing, and probation and parole. The survey results were a significant factor in moving ahead with the decision to publish Criminal Legal News.

Reporting about U.S. prisons and jails, as our readers know all too well, can be depressing and negative – though it also sheds light on issues that are too often ignored by the mainstream media. The survey indicated that more coverage of positive news would be welcomed.

Almost 95 percent of the survey respondents wanted reporting on legislation useful to those mired in the Panopticon of the U.S. criminal justice system, and we will endeavor to report on bills beneficial to prisoners that are successfully enacted into law – which are relatively few, unfortunately.

We were heartened to hear what we consider to be the most important survey data, with respect to the quality of PLN’s monthly publication. The data revealed that 94 percent of respondents consider Prison Legal News to be “good value for its cost,” with over 92 percent ranking PLN’s range of topics, quality of writing and usefulness of information as “good” or “excellent.” Around 88 percent said they had recommended PLN to others. The survey data indicated that over 90 percent of the time, each issue of PLN is shared with other readers – most often more than 10 people.

We are thankful to those who have subscribed to PLN and decided they liked it enough to tell a friend or family member; according to the survey, that is how 65 percent of respondents said they first heard about PLN.

While we appreciate the positive feedback, we also know we have work to do to meet our readers’ preferences. For example, 71 percent of respondents said they wanted more coverage of halfway houses, supervised release, community-based work release programs, etc. Further, 78 percent said they wanted more articles about medical issues faced by prisoners – particularly those related to mental health.

The survey respondents reported they would prefer less coverage of issues concerning immigration and international news, and more reporting on advocacy groups, case law, habeas issues, pro bono attorneys and wrongful convictions, among other topics. Of those, criminal case law and habeas issues are now being covered in CLN.

A slim majority of respondents expressed that they did not want PLN to include artwork or cartoons related to prisons or prisoners, in keeping with the text-centric format we have used for most of the past 28 years.

We were pleased to see that most readers value the advertisements that run in PLN. Some 58 percent of respondents, for example, said they had purchased a product or service advertised in PLN within the previous 12 months, with almost 60 percent of that group saying they had ordered something from two to four ads. Around 33 percent of respondents who made purchases from advertisers spent less than $50, while 43 percent spent from $50 to $100 and 21 percent spent from $100 to $500.

PLN’s advertising is important as it helps to generate income, subsidizes our news content and allows us to offer a lower subscription rate for prisoners.

Lastly, the survey results indicated that 30 percent of respondents had experienced problems receiving PLN’s monthly publication or book orders, and of those 74 percent had filed a grievance or complaint with prison or jail officials.

Those are the main takeaways from our most recent reader survey, and the results will be used to refine our coverage and content as PLN moves forward.

Thanks to everyone who completed and returned the survey! 


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