Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. This is one of the very few times in our 30 year history where we have changed a cover story midproduction after the magazine has already been laid out, but that is what we are doing now. Our original cover story this month was going to be on prison contraband. As the month has gone on, the news about COVID-19 has gotten steadily more dire. For long time readers of PLN, my editorial style has generally to wait and see what is actually happening because most of the time the initial media reports are wrong or exaggerated. When it comes to prison epidemics though we don’t have much in the way of actual hard news right now, but I fear that is coming along shortly and it isn’t going to be good.
As this issue of PLN is going to press the media is awash in news about the coronavirus as it sweeps the globe. The biggest constant seems to be that, globally, prisons and jails will be hard hit by whatever eventually transpires. Iran has freed 85,000 prisoners as a result of the virus while prisoners in Italy have rebelled and taken over prisons as a result of not receiving adequate medical care. Given the current and historical medical neglect American prisoners are subjected to, and the fact that U.S. prisons and jails have been a vector for every deadly disease to hit the U.S. in the past 40 years, such as AIDS/HIV, HCV, MRSA, Legionnaires disease, drug resistant TB, etc., it is unlikely that the government will respond to coronavirus any better than it did to the others.
Another aggravating factor sure to make whatever happens much worse than it should be is the privatization of prison health care, with large portions of it under the control of corporate health companies whose entire business model depends on extracting as much money from the government as possible while delivering as little health care as possible. Faced with a pandemic potentially infecting hundreds of thousands of prisoners in crowded facilities with aging ventilation systems, are these corporations going to put public health before corporate profits? I wouldn’t bet on it.
Prisons have canceled visitation, claiming it will reduce the virus’ entry into prisons, yet nothing is said about the 1 million people who work in prisons and jails every day as guards, secretaries, food workers, etc. If the disease spreads as predicted among prison populations, are the employees going to show up for work? Historically, prison employees are not the bravest, most dedicated nor best paid public servants. What happens to the American gulag if no one shows up to watch the caged? Is this the moment for massive decarceration as is taking place in Iran? Does the American political and ruling class have the ability to use a global pandemic as an opportunity to significantly reduce its prison and jail population? And how will prisoners — not passive actors, as events in Italy have shown – respond?
We will report on this issue on an ongoing basis in PLN. If you are in prison or jail and being affected by COVID-19 please drop us a line and let us know what’s happening where you’re being held.
This is also impacting our operations. As executive director of HRDC, my main priorities are safeguarding the safety of our 17 employees and maintaining our operational capacity to advocate on behalf of prisoners and their families and keep providing timely, accurate information as we have for the past 30 years. As this issue of PLN is going to press our offices in Florida remain open with a skeleton crew of employees coming in to answer the phones, process mail from prisoners and process and ship book orders. The bulk of our legal and editorial team is working remotely from home to keep the risk of infection as low as possible. Our Seattle office is likely to be shut down any hour now as the epidemic hits Washington hard.
HRDC urgently needs donations as we are getting hit with unexpected expenses from the epidemic and I expect that to worsen. We are working harder than ever and longer hours than ever to keep our magazines on schedule and responding to all media inquiries in a timely manner. We are processing all subscription and book orders as quickly as we always have. This is a time when I would strongly recommend buying your own copy of the Prisoners Self Help Litigation Manual or Protecting Your Health and Safety.
If you have been reading someone else’s copy of PLN or CLN, this is a good time to buy your own subscription. If you can make a donation, please do so. If you believe in a free and independent prisoner rights media, then step up and support it.
For readers who are also interested in criminal law and policing issues, please consider subscribing to Criminal Legal News, the companion publication to Prison Legal News, which we also publish. Together, PLN and CLN give readers a total overview of the criminal justice system from beginning to end.
HRDC continues it efforts to stop the financial exploitation of prisoners and their families. We are seeking class action representatives for two lawsuits. The first involves anyone released from CDCR who was given a JPay debit card within the past three years and who was charged fees to access their money. In the second, GTL and Securus are operating a scheme where they charge people $14.95 for accepting a one-time collect call from a prisoner. Furthermore, GTL and Securus have a practice of taking people’s money from their prison phone account if the account is “inactive” for more than 30 days. Anyone who was billed $14.95 for a collect call or who had money taken from their prison phone account should contact us at: HRDC, Attention SPP, PO Box 1151, Lake Worth, FL 33460, (561) 360-2523 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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