by Paul Wright
We have long reported on the phenomenon of jailhouse lawyers and other prisoners who, upon release, have gone to law school and become attorneys. While that phenomenon has been occurring for decades, it appears to be picking up – perhaps because there are simply more people going to prison in the first place. It follows that those most impacted by the legal system in general, and the criminal justice system in particular, may have insights and experiences that make them better advocates.
Over the past 30 years the nation’s prison and jail population has more than doubled, and with that increased population has come the steady worsening of conditions. Besides the denial of adequate medical and mental health care which results in the deaths of thousands of prisoners each year through neglect and incompetence, there has been the wholesale elimination of academic programs ranging from basic literacy to higher education. If anything, the penal system is an obstacle for prisoners who wish to educate themselves and become professionally employed following their release.
My observation over the years has been that while prison officials occasionally pay token lip service to rehabilitation and reducing recidivism rates, they have a rather miserly vision of what that means. For the most part it means ex-prisoners don’t commit more crimes and have menial, low-paying jobs. They really don’t like the idea of former prisoners obtaining well-paying jobs as professionals, or well-paying jobs in general.
While I was incarcerated one of my good friends was released on parole and immediately hired by a tech company based upon the computer skills he learned in prison. This was in the mid-1990s. We stayed in contact over the years, and I asked him how everything was going. He said he was having problems with his parole officer – she was very upset that after serving a 15-year sentence and getting out of prison he had a job making more money than she did. Apparently, no one in the criminal justice system wants that.
In the bad news department, on January 4, 2019 the U.S. Supreme Court denied review in our appeal challenging the censorship of Prison Legal News by the Florida Department of Corrections. So after a decade of litigation, we won on a due process claim but lost on our First Amendment claim. We are grateful to the many attorneys who represented HRDC in this case and all of the amicus partners and their counsel who joined us as well. [See: PLN, Dec. 2018, p.12]. We are currently reviewing our options going forward.
Speaking of censorship, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has censored recent issues of Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News. After receiving a demand letter from HRDC attorneys and the law firm of Rosen, Bien, Galvan and Grunfeld, the CDCR rescinded its position and has claimed the issue is resolved and all censored magazines have been delivered. If you are a CDCR subscriber and had issues of PLN or CLN withheld, please let us know if they were delivered.
We always ask our subscribers to contact us when the books or subscriptions they order or wish to receive from the Human Rights Defense Center are censored or withheld by prison and jail officials. It is important that readers notify us of this censorship, because all too often the prisons and jails do not.
This issue of PLN is dedicated to the memory of PLN contributing writer Rick Anderson. I wrote a separate obituary for him (see page 20), because without Rick there might not be a PLN today.
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