From the Editor
by Paul Wright
Welcome to another issue of PLN! We have been reporting on the federal ADX supermax since it opened in 1994 as the U.S. government’s highest-security prison dedicated to destroying human beings through total isolation. Over the years we have covered the myriad abuses and corruption at ADX, including a snitch factory, suicides, the lack of mental health care for prisoners who either became seriously mentally ill through prolonged isolation or were already mentally ill when they arrived, mail censorship, denial of access to journalists and more.
Unsurprisingly, PLN has not been overly popular with the authorities at ADX; our publication has been censored multiple times over the years, and we have sued ADX officials twice. One lawsuit is currently pending on cross-motions for summary judgment. In our previous case, prison staff claimed, incredibly, that they could censor PLN if we mentioned any prisoners or employees by name. Other “offensive” PLN content included articles discussing the legal means (such as habeas petitions or Bivens actions) that ADX prisoners could use to challenge their placement at the facility, among other things.
The current use of long-term solitary confinement at ADX confirms what people have known since at least the 1830s, when Alexis de Tocqueville first toured U.S. prisons – the so-called “penitentiaries” in New York and Pennsylvania where prisoners were caged alone in silent cells for years on end: Solitary drives sane men insane and pushes the mentally unstable over the precipice of madness. While some states have implemented significant reforms to curtail the use of long-term segregation, the federal Bureau of Prisons has not. Alan Prendergast has long been the best journalist covering and reporting on conditions at ADX since it opened, and on the ADX administration’s remarkable hostility to the media and journalists.
Speaking of hostility to the media, PLN’s longstanding (nine years and counting) lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections over its censorship of PLN continues, with our petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court being due on September 15. As this issue of PLN goes to press over 83 organizations, law professors and retired prison officials have committed to signing on to some 11 amicus briefs on our behalf, urging the high court to grant review and reverse the decision of the Eleventh Circuit. We will keep our readers updated on the outcome of this case once it is resolved.
We recently sent out a special summer fundraiser mailing asking people to help fund our continued censorship struggle in Florida and our cert petition. I would like to thank everyone who has made a donation; if you have not done so already, it is not too late!
We have had a very busy summer at the Human Rights Defense Center. In addition to our Florida DOC censorship case, we have been working on a number of other issues. Since June, our legal team has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); filed public records act lawsuits against Corizon and GEO Group in Florida and Vermont, respectively; sued the Palm Beach County jail for caging mentally ill children in solitary confinement and depriving them of an education; and sued the Florida Department of Corrections and Corizon over the starvation death of a mentally ill prisoner.
Further, we recently settled a statewide censorship lawsuit against the Kentucky DOC, so now prisoners can receive books and magazines from all publishers, not just those on an approved vendor list. We also settled suits against the Los Angeles County jail, the Greene County jail in Ohio and the Santa Fe County jail in New Mexico; as a result, prisoners at those facilities can now receive books and magazines which were previously banned. And our legal team continues to litigate class-action suits challenging fee-laden debit cards foisted on released prisoners, as well as lawsuits against the censorship of books, magazines and letters at various prisons and jails, among other cases.
On the publishing front, we strive to make each issue of Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News better each month with the informative, incisive reporting our readers have come to expect from us. We are also working on new book projects and websites. Plus our advocacy efforts continue around obtaining public records and pursuing our Prison Ecology Project, Campaign for Prison Phone Justice and Stop Prison Profiteering project.
When people support HRDC they are getting a lot of bang for the buck. Unlike other organizations, advocating for criminal justice reform and prisoners’ rights is all we do. We don’t have any agenda besides advancing the human rights of people oppressed, exploited and caged by the U.S. criminal justice system. When you make a donation to HRDC, you know what you are supporting and getting.
Even if you cannot afford to make a donation at this time, please encourage your friends and family to do so, and encourage others to subscribe to both Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News. Since we launched CLN last December, it has continued to grow and improve under the editorial direction of managing editor Richard Resch. Enjoy this issue of PLN.
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