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From the Editor

Welcome to the last issue of PLN for 2020. It has been an eventful year that no one expected or planned for in January. Two companies, Pfizer and Moderna, have announced vaccines for COVID-19 claiming effectiveness rates of over 90%. So far, we have seen nothing about plans to ensure that prisoners receive access to vaccines. Our ruling class must be struggling with the quandary of whether to vaccinate prisoners first and see how well the vaccines work or leave prisoners last to ensure higher priority Americans get vaccinated first. We will report what happens.

Since the pandemic first started, our readers have been sending us updates and news developments about COVID-19 in the facilities they or their loved ones are imprisoned in. Please continue sending us your news and updates. As winter sets in, COVID-19 rates are likely to rise both inside and outside of prisons and jails, and we are likely to see even higher mortality rates. As we report, very few states are releasing convicted prisoners due to COVID-19 concerns, and prisoners are for the most part being left locked in cages with the government hoping not too many die.

By now all PLN subscribers should have received a free sample copy of Criminal Legal News, (CLN), the companion publication to PLN, which the Human Rights Defense Center also publishes. If you are interested in criminal law and procedure, parole and probation, the death penalty, sentencing issues, and policing issues, you should subscribe to CLN. It is also a monthly magazine and is published in the middle of each month, while PLN is published at the beginning of the month.

All subscribers should have also received HRDC’s annual fundraiser packet, which includes our annual report for 2019, some of our media coverage, and much more. If you have not donated yet, please do so and encourage your friends and family to donate as well. Every day, criminal justice reform and prisoner rights advocacy is all we do here at HRDC. We do not have any other agenda. Donating to HRDC will make the most bang for the criminal justice reform dollar possible.

As this issue of PLN goes to press, we have filed suit against the Indiana DOC for censoring our publications. That is the tenth censorship lawsuit HRDC has filed in 2020 to ensure prisoners can receive the books and magazines we distribute. As the COVID-19 pandemic started in March of this year we made every effort we could to ensure that prisoners can receive the books and magazines they need to stay informed and stay safe. A big shout out to HRDC’s general counsel, Dan Marshall, for getting these cases on file in the middle of a pandemic when our legal teams are working from home and dealing with myriad pandemic-related obstacles. More importantly, we have settled and won four of those lawsuits already on favorable terms that ensure prisoners can receive the publications and payment of our attorney fees and damages. We are grateful to the many attorneys and law firms around the country working diligently on these cases with HRDC.

This month’s cover story reports on the status of prison and jail debit cards and the HRDC litigation challenging the practice of taking prisoners’ money and giving them fee-laden debit cards when they are released. If you have been or are about to be released from prison or jail and have been given a debit card against your will and were charged fees to access your own money, please contact us as we are looking for additional plaintiffs to challenge these practices, especially against JPay.

The 2020 election has ended with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris being elected president and vice president, respectively. As we reported in the October 2020, issue of PLN, both Biden and Harris have horrendous records on criminal justice issues spanning their entire careers. It remains to be seen what, if any, progressive criminal justice reforms they will undertake in office. Perhaps we will be pleasantly surprised, most likely not, but hope springs eternal.

One issue that has not received much analysis is what role, if any, newly enfranchised felon voters played in the presidential election in Florida. PLN has reported extensively on efforts around felon enfranchisement in Florida, especially around the passage of Amendment 4, which deliberately and specifically excluded parolees, probationers, sex offenders, murderers and anyone who had not paid their fines and fees from being able to vote. We will report the specifics in greater detail in a future issue, but even as celebrities and billionaires ponied up millions to pay fines and fees so convicted felons could vote, the actual impact, if any, remains dubious. Donald Trump won Florida by four percentage points or almost 400,000 votes more than Biden received. It was estimated that around 67,000 felons had their voting rights restored and registered to vote. A far cry from the 1.4 million that Amendment 4 purported to enfranchise. What has not been disclosed is who did newly enfranchised felons vote for?

The backers and funders of Amendment 4 raised and spent tens of millions of dollars to enfranchise some felons in Florida. Hopefully, the money and the political will is there to push to enfranchise everyone who was left behind based on their conviction, probation or parolee status or their inability to pay fines and fees. HRDC opposed Amendment 4 at the time because it perpetuates bigotry and discrimination against convicted felons by dividing us into separate camps that does nothing to bring about community cohesion or social unity. PLN and CLN will be reporting on election outcomes related to criminal justice issues in upcoming issues.

Enjoy this issue of PLN, your HRDC fundraiser packet, and sample issue of CLN. Everyone at HRDC would like to wish our readers, subscribers, advertisers and other supporters a happy holiday season and best wishes for a new year of greater struggle. Hopefully, we will soon see the last of the pandemic and 2021 will be a healthier new year than this one.