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From the Editor

by Paul Wright

In 1994, President Clinton ended Pell grant eligibility for prisoners in legislation spearheaded by then-senator, and now presidential candidate, Joe Biden. That pretty much signaled the end of what little higher education existed in U.S. prisons, as state legislatures quickly followed suit to terminate whatever modest state funding had been available for prison college programs. The days of prisoners being able to earn degrees, with a few exceptions, became a thing of the past.

But even basic education like GEDs and vocational certificates became harder to obtain as well. Not surprisingly, with the exception of Texas, states in the Deep South, which already had the highest levels of illiteracy outside of prison, quickly raced to the bottom and have remained there ever since. As this issue’s cover story about the dearth of education in Florida’s medieval prison system shows, very little educational opportunities exist for prisoners in that state. Alas, Florida prisoners will not be able to read about it, both due to high levels of illiteracy resulting from a lack of educational programs and also because the Florida DOC continues to censor all issues of Prison Legal News statewide.

This issue of PLN is dedicated to the memory of John Perotti, 63, a long-time prisoner rights activist from Ohio who wrote for us in our earlier years. John died on July 20, 2019 of organ failure caused by gastrointestinal hemorrhaging while in the state prison at Youngstown, Ohio. He was a skilled jailhouse lawyer and advocate who spent most of his adult life in prison and on parole. John was a long-term pen pal and friend, and will be sorely missed.

The latest book from PLN Publishing is now available. The Habeas Citebook: Prosecutorial Misconduct,by former HRDC staff attorney Alissa Hull, has arrived and is ready for shipping. It’s a concise guide to state and federal cases where criminal defendants obtained reversals of their convictions due to prosecutorial misconduct, and would make a great holiday gift and addition to any criminal defense library. Order now to get it before the holidays!

By now, subscribers should have received HRDC’s annual fundraiser. If you have not yet donated, please do so. We rely on donations from individuals like you to do advocacy work on prisoners’ rights issues and criminal justice reform above and beyond publishing magazines and books. If you think litigation and advocacy to ensure prisoners can read books and publications, seeking lower phone rates for prisoners and their families, ending the economic exploitation of people enmeshed in the criminal justice system, more transparency in the justice system, seeking to hold prisoncrats accountable for the prisoners they kill and mistreat, and disseminating information about how the carceral system in America really operates and functions, then please make a contribution. Virtually all of our donations and funding comes from individuals – people like you, who are reading this.

Every little bit helps. If you can become a sustaining donor for even $10 a month, that makes a big difference in the activities we are able to undertake. Ask your friends and family to donate, as well as your social networks. HRDC is a very lean operation; every penny you donate will go toward criminal justice reform and actually getting things accomplished. Unlike many organizations, HRDC has concrete metrics. I am proud to be the founder and director of an organization that can point to our accomplishments. Each month I can note that we published two magazines and mailed them to thousands of subscribers around the country; we published a daily electronic newsletter that was sent to thousands of subscribers; we posted hundreds of articles on our social media accounts that were read by tens of thousands of people; over 200,000 people visited at least one website operated by HRDC; we filed at least one lawsuit somewhere around the country; we conducted at least four radio shows; we were quoted or cited by the mainstream media; we distributed at least 500 books, mostly to prisoners; we obtained at least one significant ruling in one of our lawsuits; and much more.

I started HRDC in 1990 in a maximum-security prison cell in Washington state with $300 to last six months, which was enough to mail six issues of 10-page, hand-typed copies of Prison Legal News to 75 prospective subscribers. We have grown to be a 16-person organization with the ability to advocate, publish and litigate nationally thanks to the ongoing support we have received over the past 29 years from people like you, who believe in justice and realize that your donation will go further and accomplish more with HRDC than anywhere else.

Every donation we receive gets invested back into HRDC. Help us keep fighting and winning the good fight, and donate now and encourage others to donate as well. If you are reading someone else’s copy of PLN or CLN, order your own subscription if you can afford to, as the more subscribers we have the lower our per-issue costs, and the more people will learn about the issues we report on. Enjoy this issue of PLN, and happy holidays.