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From the Editor

Prison Legal News launched in May 1990, making this the thirtieth anniversary issue. I hand typed five pages, half the issue, in my maximum-security prison cell and Ed Mead, my co-editor, typed the other half in his cell. We sent it out to a volunteer to photocopy and mail to our aspiring mailing list of 75 people we hoped would subscribe.

For the past 20 years, the cover story of PLN that marks each five-year anniversary has our history from the beginning in 1990 to the present, along with a summary of our First Amendment and public records litigation. That is what we were planning to do for this issue. And then COVID-19 erupted. We will be reporting on COVID-​19 for the duration of the pandemic, which we expect, tragically, to get much, much worse for prisoners. Hopefully, by the end of the year we can run that PLN 30th anniversary story.

One of the challenges of running a monthly magazine is timeliness. In our 30-year history our focus has always been on getting the story right. We have seen that most of the time when disasters strike, whatever initial news coverage that comes out turns out to be not just wrong but flat-out wrong. Remember the snipers in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina? But when disasters hit prisons and jails they tend to be local or regionalized events and they are soon over with while the effects linger. Our reporting then covers the overall story with a depth and detail few other outlets provide and that becomes the definitive story. This, however, is the first time we have had a national story that is still ongoing week after week and will be for the foreseeable future.

We are updating many articles almost to the minute they go to press during the production cycle. The issue starts production the 15th of the month with the goal of going to printer on the 30th and being mailed shortly thereafter. Readers receive copies around the middle of the month, while online subscribers have access within hours of it going to press. By the time you receive this issue of PLN, some of the numbers concerning the spread of the virus will surely be outdated as they continue growing exponentially. As we learn more about COVID-19 and its impact on prisoners we will report it.

Our lead reporters on the topic are Dr. Michael Cohen, who wrote the diabetes manual distributed by PLN, the former Chief Medical Officer of the New York state juvenile prison system and someone with extensive experience with prison medical systems. We feel it best for our readers to get medical information from an actual doctor who knows the realities of prison life and is a top national expert in the field. Our other lead writer is Chris Zoukis, a long time PLN writer and a former federal prisoner. Chris has authored a number of books, including the Prison Education Guide. He is currently attending law school and is a top expert in the world of prisons and jails.

If you or your family members are being impacted by COVID-19, please contact us and let us know about it. If you have pictures or video, they can be sent to or find us on Twitter or Facebook as well.

COVID-19 has impacted the Human Rights Defense Center, which publishes Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News. Most of our staff are working remotely with a core group processing subscriptions and shipping book orders. Fortunately, all of our staff are healthy and safe. All book orders are being shipped within 24 hours of receipt as are subscriptions. We will continue publishing and informing prisoners and the world of what is happening. Our litigation team continues filing, fighting and winning lawsuits. At this time, we think it is more important than ever that prisoners be able to receive news and information about their concerns and realities.

If you are looking for books to buy about your legal rights to medical treatment in prison, Protect Your Health and Safety gives a good overview. The Prisoners Self Help Litigation Manual remains the bible of prisoner rights. Both are available from HRDC. They predate COVID-19 but explain the legal principles that apply.

As much as COVID-19 is on everyone’s mind, in prison or out, it’s important to remember that just because we have a mass pandemic going on, all the other things wrong with the American police state and its prisons and jails did not go away or get better. We will continue reporting on those issues as well.

Now more than ever we need your financial support and donations. For 30 years we have brought prisoners and the American public the very best and most detailed news coverage of prison and jails in PLN, and on criminal law and procedure in CLN since it was launched 3 years ago. Reading someone else’s copy? Buy your own subscription as it helps build our reader base. Encourage your friends and family to donate to support our work. Every little bit helps. For 30 years, every month, we have brought you timely, reliable news that advocates for the fundamental rights of prisoners. If you don’t support us, who will? 


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