From the Editor
by Paul Wright
I am excited to report that The Habeas Citebook: Prosecutorial Misconduct, by former HRDC staff attorney Alissa Hull, is now available for purchase and shipping. Building on the success and popularity of The Habeas Citebook: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel,this book provides clear, concise information needed to challenge criminal convictions procured by unscrupulous prosecutors. Ordering information is included in this issue of PLN. This book is the perfect holiday gift for the pro se prisoner litigant as well as the experienced attorney who does post-conviction litigation; it provides a 50-state review of case law as well as federal citations. A big thanks to everyone at HRDC who worked on getting it to press.
By now all PLN subscribers should have received our annual fundraiser packet; if you have not donated yet, please do so! We rely on your support to help fund our advocacy and litigation around issues as diverse as prison telephone rates, education for prisoners, felon disenfranchisement, censorship by prison and jail officials, and much more. Please encourage others to donate as well, or to subscribe to Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News.
Every dollar donated to HRDC helps build our capacity to undertake more extensive and complex advocacy projects. If you or someone you know is incarcerated and your prison phone bill has decreased over the past five years because the rates and costs went down, it is likely due to our national Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, which put pressure on the prison phone industry and led the FCC to cap interstate phone rates. Please consider donating some of those savings to HRDC so we can continue our advocacy work.
This month’s cover story examines the medical rights of incarcerated patients and how those rights are often violated by healthcare and corrections staff. Alas, we have been reporting on inadequate medical and mental health care in prisons and jails since we first began publishing PLN in May 1990. The larger issue is that the United States remains one of the few developed nations in the world where medical care is not a guaranteed human right for all citizens. Ironically, only prisoners in the U.S. are guaranteed government-provided healthcare, yet it is often inadequate and extremely expensive, and prisoners’ medical needs are frequently ignored.
Another reason to support HRDC is that we are one of the few – if not the only – organization that views conditions of confinement in the U.S., including poor medical care, as a massive human rights violation in need of urgent reform. It doesn’t matter how long or short a sentence is if prisoners die due to inadequate healthcare before they are released.
As the presidential election season approaches, it is interesting to note that many of the Democratic candidates are touting proposals for criminal justice reform. Their proposals range from banning private prisons to rolling back some mandatory minimums. I find it interesting that little attention has been paid to their actual voting records on criminal justice legislation while they have been in office, and how much money they have accepted from police and prison guard unions or the private prison industry. Once the Democratic nominee is determined, PLN will review their actual track record on criminal justice issues and see how it compares with their rhetoric on the campaign trail.
HRDC has been in contact with several of the presidential contenders, and our suggestions have had an impact. Among other issues we want to see addressed are the repeal of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDEPA) and the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. All were signed into law by President Bill Clinton, and Joe Biden played a significant role in the passage of all three bills. Senator Bernie Sanders voted for the 1994 crime bill, while Senator Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor, has a questionable record on criminal justice issues.
One area of advocacy where HRDC has been pushing for change is the use of fee-laden debit cards foisted on prisoners and arrestees who receive the cards instead of cash or a check upon their release. If you have been released from prison or jail and received a debit card that required you to pay fees to access your own money, HRDC would like to hear from you. We are interested in suing the debit card companies and the banks behind them in order to end these predatory and exploitive practices that target prisoners. See the ad on page 17 for details on how to contact us regarding release debit cards.
Lastly, this issue of PLN is dedicated to the memory of William “Buzz” Alexander, who died at his home outside Ann Arbor, Michigan last September. Alexander was a professor at the University of Michigan from 1971 until 2017. Early on, he was considered by many to be a radical, working with peasants in South America, leading campus activists and teaching courses on “leftist” cinema. He once wrote in a letter to his student Eli Hager, now a staff writer at The Marshall Project, “‘it is our duty to scream’ about the injustice and indignity of the U.S. prison system.”
In 1990, Alexander created the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP), the first and still largest project of its kind. PCAP provides workshops in theater, writing and visual arts at 26 state prisons in Michigan, as well as a federal prison, the Forensic Psychiatric Center and a public housing community, with up to 125 volunteers each semester. In 2004, Alexander wrote an article for Prison Legal News that described the project. [See: PLN, Nov. 2004, p.21].
Alexander lost his three-year fight with frontal temporal degeneration, a brain disorder, on September 19, 2019. He was 80 years old.
On that unhappy note, enjoy this issue of PLN and please encourage others to donate and subscribe.