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From the Editor

by Paul Wright

With COVID-19 still dominating prison and jail related news, it is worth keeping in mind that detention conditions did not miraculously improve because of a pandemic. Rather, already bad conditions have gotten steadily worse, inadequate and negligent medical care systems have been overtaxed, and their already limited capacity has been exceeded.

Meanwhile, releases of convicted prisoners at the state and federal levels due to COVID-19 have been small and slow. It appears the political class in this country, and the managers who run their prisons and jails, have confirmed that prisoners are viewed as expendable. Whatever happens, their jobs are secure, they seem to have concluded. It remains to be seen what the actual mortality rate of COVID-19 will be in prisons and jails, and if officials will accurately report it.

PLN will continue covering COVID-
19 related developments as they occur, and it appears we are in for a long-term period of reporting on the topic. Our news and legal reporting have already begun to reflect that.

Some readers will note that court decisions we reported in the last issue of PLN have already been reversed. The good news is appellate courts are moving quickly on lawsuits challenging COVID-19-related conditions; the bad news is they are often reversing the district court rulings in favor of prisoners. We will continue working to bring readers the most timely and accurate information possible, but be advised that between the time PLN is sent to the printer and when you receive it, things may already have changed.

I’ve been editing PLN for the past 30 years and this is not our first pandemic. In some ways, PLN’s coverage of AIDS/HIV in the 1990s was similar: A relatively new disease was poorly understood and prisoners were denied adequate care and treatment as it swept through prisoner populations around the country.

By the end of the 1990s, AZT cocktails turned what had been a death sentence upon diagnosis at the beginning of the decade into a chronic but manageable disease. Of course, prisoners continued to be denied treatment and were discriminated against long after that, and still are in many cases. All the talk about a COVID-19 vaccine being just around the corner reminds me of the search for an HIV/AIDS vaccine, which has been discussed since at least the mid-1980s and remains as elusive as ever.

We remain highly interested in reporting on COVID-19 and its impact on prisoners around the country, so please contact us and let us know what is happening in your corner of the American gulag.

As a reminder, our other publication, Criminal Legal News, is also a monthly magazine that reports on criminal law, procedure, sentencing issues and policing and makes a great companion to PLN. A subscription to both ensures that readers are informed about all aspects of the criminal justice system. Subscription information can be found on page 45.

Many new subscribers are receiving PLN for the first time as part of a trial subscription we offered as the COVID-19 pandemic began to explode. I hope you find PLN informative and useful, and that you subscribe at the regular subscription rate when your trial subscription runs out. We rely on subscriptions to continue publishing and on advertising to keep our rates low.

If you patronize any of our advertisers, be sure to tell them you saw their ad in PLN! If you can make a donation above and beyond your subscription, please do so as that is what keeps us up and running. Right now, we are in probably the most critical time I have seen in the entire duration we have been publishing.

As I see protests around the world denouncing the scourge of police abuse and brutality in the U.S., and millions of protestors seeking justice and accountability for George Floyd, I wonder when we will see that attention turn to prisoners who have been murdered by the American carceral state. Darren Rainey is the Florida prisoner who was burned to death by state prison guards. Five years later, the medical examiner claimed his death was “accidental” and no one has ever been charged for his murder.

The Human Rights Defense Center, PLN’s publisher, is currently suing the Florida DOC and Corizon on behalf of the family of Vincent Gaines. Mr. Gaines was STARVED to DEATH by prison guards over a period of weeks, if not months. He entered prison weighing 180 pounds and was 5’ 10” tall. He weighed 110 pounds when he died, leaving prison in a body bag. [PLN, September 2018]. No one has been charged with his murder by starvation.

Each year thousands of prisoners die in American prisons and jails. Some, like Darren Rainey, tortured to death. Others, like Vincent Gaines, starved to death. Many die of medical neglect. Yet these ongoing deaths meet with political apathy and little media attention.

For 30 years, PLN has struggled to raise awareness around prison and jail conditions because I have long believed that if the public knew what was being done in their name they would demand change. We are seeing this happen with policing right now. Video after video showing unarmed men and women — disproportionately Black and uniformly poor — being murdered has sickened millions of Americans, who are finally noticing that police states are bad news for those being policed. Some of that attention needs to be focused on what is happening to prisoners, which is often much worse than what the police do.

Help us raise that same awareness around what is happening in prisons and jails. If you can make a donation to support our work, please do so. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

In addition, HRDC publishes a FREE daily e-newsletter, every business day, with the latest in criminal justice news and struggle. If you have pictures or video of human and civil rights violations behind bars, send it to us at content@prisonlegalnews.org.

Please support HRDC, this is a time we can all make a critical difference.