Milestone: Thirty Years of Prison Legal News and the Human Rights Defense Center
Instead, we will do a national virtual event on December 10 to mark both International Human Rights Day and our 30th anniversary. Yale law professor and author James Forman Jr. will be our keynote speaker. Details on the event and how to attend virtually are inside this issue.
When I started PLN in 1990 I was 25 years old and three years into a life sentence. The United States had a million people locked in cages. Today, I am 55 years old and have been out of prison for 17 years, and the United States has around 2.5 million people locked in cages. In addition to having a lot more prisoners, living conditions, by every possible measure with the possible exception of disability rights, are far worse than they were 30 years ago.
Prison population growth has been fueled by the growth of the American police state and increases in sentences. With 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25% of the world’s prisoners. The USA is indeed number one when it comes to caging people. Millions more are on probation or parole or other forms of state carceral supervision.
Over its 30 years, HRDC has grown from an all-volunteer organization in Seattle that published a monthly newsletter into a professional organization with 15 employees that publishes two monthly magazines, publishes and distributes books, litigates cases around the country, and conducts national advocacy campaigns nationally. Going into our 31st year, in the middle of a pandemic, here is a look back at how we got here.
• • •
The first issue of Prisoners’ Legal News(PLN) was published in May 1990. It was hand-typed, photocopied, 10 pages long, and mailed to 75 potential subscribers with a budget of $50. The first three issues were banned in all Washington state prisons, the first 18 in all Texas prisons. Since then we have published 367 consecutive issues, grown to 72 pages with offset printing, and now have approximately 9,000 subscribers in all 50 states. PLN long ago became the longest continuously published independent prisoner rights publication in U.S. history.
Started in a Prison Cell
In 1987, I entered the Washington state prison system with a 304-month sentence after being convicted of first-degree felony murder for shooting and killing a drug dealer in an armed robbery attempt. The following year I met Ed Mead, a political prisoner, and veteran prison activist, at the Washington State Reformatory (WSR) in Monroe, Washington. Ed had been incarcerated since 1976. During that time period, he had been involved in organizing and litigating around prison conditions and issues. He also had started and published several newsletters, including The Chill Factor, The Red DragonandThe Abolitionist. By late 1988, Ed and I were jointly involved in class action prison conditions litigation and other political work.
As the 1980s ended, it became apparent that collectively prisoners were in a downhill spiral – they were suffering serious setbacks on legislative, political, judicial, and media fronts. Prisoners and their families were the people most affected by criminal justice policies but also were the ones almost entirely absent from what passed as debate. There was a lack of political consciousness and awareness among prisoners, and widespread ignorance about the realities of the prison system among those not incarcerated.
Ed and I decided to republish The Red Dragon as a means of raising political consciousness among prisoners in the U.S. We planned to model the new publication on the old one: a 50- to 60-page Marxist quarterly magazine that Ed had previously published. We eventually put together a draft copy, but it was never printed for distribution. The main reason was a lack of political and financial support on the outside. We lacked the money to produce a large quarterly magazine and were unable to find volunteers outside prison willing to commit the time involved in laying out, printing and mailing such a publication. Additionally, in 1989 I was subjected to a retaliatory transfer to the Penitentiary at Walla Walla, due to success in the WSR overcrowding litigation. Prison officials also wanted to ensure that The Red Dragon never got published. The transfer meant that Ed and I were relegated to communicating by heavily censored mail.
We scaled back our ambitions and instead decided to publish a small, monthly newsletter focused on prison issues in Washington state. If the support was there, it would grow. Originally named Prisoners’ Legal News, we set out with the goal of publishing real, timely news that activist prisoners and their supporters in Washington state could use.
With the social movements that had traditionally supported prison reform efforts in this country at a low ebb (i.e., the civil rights, women’s liberation, and anti-war movements), we saw PLN’s objective as one that would emphasize prisoner organizing and self-reliance. Like previous political journalists who had continued publishing during the dark times of the 1920s and 1950s, we saw PLN’s role as being similar. From the outset, PLN has striven to be an organizing tool as much as an information source. When we started, we had no idea that things would get as bad as they have in our nation’s criminal justice system. Nor that they would continue to be as bad as they have for as long as they have.
In 1990, I was transferred to the Clallam Bay Corrections Center, a then-new Washington prison. The first issue of PLN appeared in May 1990. Ed and I each typed five pages of PLN in our respective cells. Columns were carefully laid out with blue pencils and graphics applied with a glue stick. We sent the proof copy to Richard Mote, a volunteer in Seattle, who copied and mailed it. PLN’s start-up budget for our first six issues was a whopping $300, or $50 to print and mail each issue. We did not have the money to continue publishing after the $300 ran out but vowed that as long as the money came in we would continue publishing. If it did not, it meant there was a lack of interest and we would have to cease publishing and regroup.
The first three issues of PLN were banned in all Washington prisons on spurious grounds. Ed was infracted by WSR officials for allegedly violating copyright laws by writing law articles. Officials at Clallam Bay ransacked my cell and confiscated my writing materials, background information, and anything that was PLN-related. Ed’s infraction was eventually dismissed, and my materials were later returned.
Just as we were on the verge of filing a civil rights lawsuit challenging the censorship of PLN, the Washington DOC capitulated and allowed PLN into its prisons. Jim Blodgett, then the warden at the Penitentiary in Walla Walla, told me that PLN would never last because its politics were “harmless and outmoded,” and prisoners were too “young and immature to be influenced” by our radical ideas. The reprisals had been fully expected, given prison officials’ historic hostility to the concepts of free speech and due process.
Then disaster struck: Richard Mote turned out to be mentally unstable. He refused to print and mail PLN’s second issue because he took offense to an article written by Ed that called for an end to the ostracization of sex offenders. Mote took off with all of PLN’s money that contributors had sent, about $50, the master copy of the second issue, and our mailing list. For several weeks it looked like there would be no second issue of PLN. Fortunately, we located another volunteer, Janie Pulsifer, who was willing to print the publication. Ed and I sent Janie another copy of the issue, which she copied and mailed. We were back on track.
The Presses Keep Rolling
Ed’s then-partner, Carey Catherine, had agreed to handle PLN’s finances and accounting, such as they were after Mote jumped ship. This was short-lived because by August 1990 she was preparing to go to China to study. The only person we knew with a post office box who might be able to take care of PLN’s mail, mainly to process donations, was my father, Rollin Wright. He lived in Florida but generously agreed to handle PLN’s mail for what Ed and I thought would be a few months at most until we found someone in Seattle. Those few months became six years as he served as PLN’s office manager, publisher, and board member.
Support for PLN slowly began to grow, as did our circulation. In January 1991 we switched to desktop publishing. Ed and I sent our typed articles to Judy Bass and Carrie Roth, who would retype them and lay them out. We would then proof each issue before it was printed and mailed. In 1991, PLN also obtained 501(c)(3) nonprofit status from the IRS so we could use lower postage rates. PLN’s circulation had stabilized at around 300 subscribers; we purposely did not seek further growth because we did not have the infrastructure to sustain it. Once we had nonprofit status and postal permits from the post office, we were ready to expand.
In the summer of 1992, we did our first sample mailing to prison law libraries. Since PLN’s reader base had increased and changed, we decided to reflect that change by renaming the publication Prison Legal News, as PLN wasn’t just for prisoners anymore. PLN was now being photocopied and mailed each month by a group of volunteers in Seattle.
When PLN started out in 1990, Ed and I had decided it would be a magazine of struggle, whether in the courts or elsewhere, and everything would be chronicled. At a time when the prisoners’ rights movement was overcome by defeatism and demoralization, we thought it important to report the struggles and victories as they occurred to let activists know that theirs was not a solitary fight.
A mainstay of PLN’s coverage from the beginning has been the issue of prison slave labor. This is where the interests of prisoners and free world workers intersect at their most obvious. If people outside prison didn’t think criminal justice policies affected them, PLN would make prisons relevant by showing how prison slave labor took their jobs and undermined their wages. This coverage was helped by the fact that Washington state was a national leader in the exploitation of prison slave labor by private businesses.
PLN has broken stories on how corporations like Boeing, Microsoft, Eddie Bauer, Planet Hollywood, Starbucks, and Nintendo, plus then-U.S. Representative Jack Metcalf, all used prison slave labor to advance their interests. These stories were picked up by other media, increasing PLN’s exposure. While PLN continues to be the leader in reporting on prison slave labor, my own views on the subject have changed. Influenced by the writings of Bruce Western, I came to realize the big story wasn’t the 5,000 prisoners who work for private companies in PIE programs or the estimated 80,000 who work in state prison industries – and those only because of the massive government subsidies that prison industries receive – but the 2.3 million prisoners who have been removed from the U.S. labor market completely.
In June 1992, I was transferred back to WSR where Ed and I could collaborate on PLN in person for the first time since the magazine started. I had been infracted by Clallam Bay officials for reporting in PLN the racist beatings of prisoners by gangs of white prison guards. Unable to generate attention for the beatings themselves, my punishment for reporting the attacks received front-page news coverage in the Seattle Times. Eventually, the disciplinary charges were dropped, but not before I had spent a month in a control unit for reporting the abuses. The PLN presses kept rolling.
PLN Becomes a Magazine
On PLN’s third anniversary in May 1993, we made the big leap. We switched to offset printing instead of photocopying and expanded to 16 pages. PLN was no longer a newsletter; we were now a magazine with 600 subscribers.
In October 1993, Ed was finally paroled after spending 18 years in prison. The state parole board, no doubt unhappy at PLN’s critical coverage of their activities, imposed a “no felon contact” order on Ed. This meant he could have no contact, by mail or phone, with me or any other felon. The parole board made it very clear that this was for the purpose of preventing Ed’s involvement with PLN. If he were involved in publishing PLN in any way, he would be thrown back in prison.
The ACLU of Washington filed suit on our behalf to challenge the rule as violating Ed’s right to free speech as well as my own. In an unpublished ruling, Judge Robert Bryan in Tacoma dismissed our lawsuit, holding that it was permissible for the state to imprison someone for publishing a magazine while they were on parole.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals eventually dismissed our appeal as moot when, after three years on parole, Ed was finally discharged from the parole board’s custody. In the meantime, Ed had tired of PLN as he had with his previous publishing efforts, and got on with his life and moved to California.
PLN switched to an East Coast printer that offered significant savings over Seattle printers. This allowed us to expand to 20 pages. Within the year, PLN was no longer being mailed by volunteers; our printer did the mailing for us.
We hired our first staff person, Sandy Judd, in January 1996. PLN’s needs and circulation had grown to the point that volunteers were simply unable to do all the work that needed to be done. With some 1,600 subscribers, data entry, layout, accounting, and other tasks required full-time attention. As the workload of increased circulation grew, so did our staff.
The bulk of each issue of PLN is written by current and former prisoners. In 1999, the Washington DOC banned correspondence between prisoners. The resulting breakdown in communication made coordinating PLN difficult, to say the least, between myself and PLN’s incarcerated contributing writers.
Upon my release in 2003, I was able to do a lot more in the way of research and advocacy as PLN’s editor than I had while imprisoned. In 2005, I hired Alex Friedmann as PLN’s associate editor. Alex had been serving a 20-year sentence in Tennessee when he first began writing for PLN in 1996 as a volunteer contributing writer. His invaluable skills as a researcher and editor vastly improved the content of PLN and the depth and breadth of our coverage. He became PLN’s managing editor until earlier this year when he was replaced by Ken Silverstein. Ken has over 30 years’ experience as an investigative reporter and journalist and was one of PLN’s earliest subscribers in the 1990s.
More Than a Monthly Publication
My first day out of prison illustrates the transition from prisoner editor to non-prisoner editor. I was picked up at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Washington state at 8:30 a.m. on December 16, 2003, by two PLN employees. By 10:30 a.m. we were in PLN’s Seattle office and I was learning to use the Internet and e-mail, my first experience with both. At noon, we had lunch with Jesse Wing and Carrie Wilkinson, part of the MacDonald, Hoague & Bayless legal team that successfully represented us in PLN v. Lehman, a censorship suit against the Washington DOC. By 2:30 p.m. I was back in PLN’s office doing a television interview with Fox News on prison slave labor. It hasn’t stopped since then.
The November 2020 issue of PLN marks our 30-year anniversary and 367th consecutive published issue. We now have around 9,000 subscribers in all 50 states. PLN goes into every medium- and maximum-security prison in the U.S. and to many minimum-security facilities and jails as well. PLN’s subscribers include prisoners and their family members, judges, attorneys, journalists, academics, prison and jail officials, activists, and concerned citizens. Our websites receive over 150,000 unique visitors each month.
PLN’s website, www.prisonlegalnews.org, is the largest online resource for prison and jail news and case law; it includes all PLN back issues in .pdf format as they appeared when published, a searchable database with over 45,000 articles and 13,000 court rulings, plus a library of more than 7,600 publications and a brief bank with 11,200 pleadings. Our site receives over 100,000 visitors a month and is frequently used as a source of information by journalists, criminal justice activists, and attorneys, among others.
In 2017 we launched another magazine, Criminal Legal News, to report on criminal law and procedure. Under the leadership of editor Richard Resch the magazine has quickly become established as an essential resource on criminal law, sentencing, policing, and surveillance.
In addition to our print and online publications, PLN has engaged in extensive advocacy efforts involving the media, lawmakers, and government agencies. HRDC staff regularly speak on the topic of prisoners’ rights at conferences, conventions, and law schools. We do dozens of media interviews each year and provide background information on prison, jail, and criminal justice issues to journalists and researchers. HRDC staff have testified before the U.S. Congress and state legislatures on prison-related topics, and have submitted comments to numerous public agencies including the Federal Communications Commission, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, the Civil Rights Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Common Courage Press published PLN’s first book, The Celling of America: An Inside Look at the U.S. Prison Industry, in 1998. Edited by Daniel Burton-Rose, Dan Pens, and myself, the book is an anthology of PLN articles. Celling of America lays out the reality and politics of the prison industrial complex in the mid-1990s; now in its fourth printing, the book received critical acclaim and helped boost PLN’s profile. Between 1998 and 2000, while incarcerated, I did a weekly radio show on KPFA’s Flashpoints program called “This Week Behind Bars.” The show aired on Fridays and consisted of news reports from PLN about what was happening in American prisons and jails. Over the past 30 years, HRDC staff have done hundreds of radio and media interviews on PLN’s behalf advocating for the rights of prisoners and for progressive criminal justice reform. Further, PLN is frequently quoted on criminal justice issues by other publications, ranging from The Associated Press and USA Today to CNN, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
In 2003, Routledge Press published Prison Nation: The Warehousing of America’s Poor, a PLN anthology edited by attorney Tara Herivel and myself that made the connection between mass imprisonment and under-funded indigent defense systems. Winner of the 2003 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, Prison Nation has been well-received. PLN editor Ken Silverstein wrote the introduction.
The New Press published Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration in 2008. An anthology edited by Tara Herivel and myself, in this volume we explored who benefits, and profits, from the policies of mass imprisonment that make the U.S. the world’s leader in putting people in prison.
This trilogy of PLN anthologies, spanning a decade, did an impressive job of laying out the political landscape of the 1990s that cemented the most repressive policies of mass incarceration, the conveyor-belt judiciary that ensures poor people accused of crimes are more likely to wind up in prison than their wealthy counterparts accused of crimes, and the economic and political beneficiaries of these policies and who is harmed by them.
In addition to PLN’s monthly magazine, online resources and anthologies, our many other projects – including media and advocacy work – are detailed in our annual reports posted on our website. In 2013, we received the First Amendment Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.
PLN remains unique in many respects. First, it is the only independent, uncensored nationally circulated magazine edited and produced largely by prisoners and former prisoners anywhere in the U.S., if not the world. It also is the only explicitly advocate publication that seeks to improve the lives of prisoners and their families. We don’t just report the news, we make the news and also seek to influence it. Second, it is one of the few publications that offers a class-based analysis of the criminal justice system. No other publication has the depth and breadth of coverage of detention facility litigation and news. If you want to know about American prisons or jails, chances are somewhere in the past 30 years, we have reported on it.
Since its inception PLN has largely relied on donations from our subscribers and supporters. In recent years, advertising income has helped offset our costs and allowed us to expand the size of the magazine. PLN began distributing books with the release of our first anthology, The Celling of America, in 1998.
PLN: Then and Now
In 2009, we changed the name of our parent nonprofit organization to the Human Rights Defense Center (www.humanrightsdefensecenter.org), to better reflect our diverse activities. Those activities include book publishing. The first title produced by PLN Publishing was The Prisoners’ Guerrilla Handbook to Correspondence Programs in the U.S. and Canada, third edition. Written by Missouri prisoner Jon Marc Taylor and edited by PLN staff member Susan Schwartzkopf (now HRDC’s chief finance officer), it reflected our desire to publish and distribute self-help, non-fiction reference books that prisoners can use to help themselves. Our next title, The Habeas Citebook, by federal prisoner Brandon Sample (now a federal criminal defense lawyer), was published in 2011 with a second edition published in 2016. In 2015, we produced our third book, the Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual, second edition, by Dan Manville. In 2020, we published The Habeas Citebook: Prosecutorial Misconduct by former HRDC staff attorney Alissa Hull.
We started HRDC’s litigation project in 2010. We also added a part-time staff attorney position and hired Dan Manville as our first general counsel. When the position became a full-time job, Lance Weber joined us as our general counsel and litigation director. He was followed by Sabarish Neelakanta, and our current general counsel and litigation director is Dan Marshall. HRDC has a national litigation capability and regularly litigates and wins civil rights, free speech, wrongful death, consumer protection, and public records lawsuits around the country.
In March 2010, we closed our Seattle office and moved all HRDC/PLN operations to Brattleboro, Vermont, where I had been living following my release from prison. I became HRDC’s executive director in addition to editing PLN. In 2013, we relocated our office to Florida for what should be our final move, and in 2014 we reopened our Seattle office, staffed now by our public records manager Kathrine Brown.
Since our inception, PLN has been involved in advocacy campaigns. In the 1990s, we successfully led the struggle for Washington state prisoners to keep family visits, law libraries and weight lifting. Nationally we are one of the few opponents of the private prison industry. In 2011, we co-founded the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice (www.prisonphonejustice.org and www.phonejustice.org) to lower the cost of prison and jail phone calls. We successfully lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to cap the cost of interstate prison phone rates, and the FCC is currently considering similar reforms for in-state rates. We were able to prevent the state of Vermont from enacting a civil commitment statute for sex offenders and successfully advocated to amend a Vermont law to allow attorney fees for prevailing parties in public records litigation. We were part of the coalitions that succeeded in preventing prison privatization initiatives in New Hampshire and Florida. Most recently, in 2015 we launched the Stop Prison Profiteering campaign to oppose the longstanding practice of financially exploiting prisoners and their families.
PLN has grown from being an all-volunteer project to having 15 full-time employees in three offices (Lake Worth, Florida; Seattle, Washington and Washington, D.C.). The magazine has expanded from 10 to 72 pages, and from 75 prospective subscribers to about 9,000 nationwide. Since the very beginning, the only thing that has held us back in terms of what can accomplish has been a lack of funding; the more money we have had, the more we have been able to do with respect to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice reform. As our budget went from $600 a year to $1.5 million a year, so did what we were able to do and accomplish.
Continued advocacy on behalf of prisoners and their families on all fronts, and ensuring the ability of prisoners to receive their PLN subscriptions, are daily struggles for us. Expanding PLN’s bookstore list, publishing more self-help books, further increasing PLN’s size to provide more news and information for our readers, and expanding our circulation are all goals for the immediate future. Going forward, PLN will still be here, giving a voice to the voiceless and publishing the best news and analysis on criminal justice-related issues that we can.
A free press doesn’t come cheap. Neither does free speech. From the very first issue to this day, PLN has been censored in prisons and jails across the country. In some cases, we have been able to resolve censorship issues administratively. In cases where that was not possible, we filed suit and addressed the matter in court. The article following this cover story provides a summary of PLN’s extensive litigation history. Whether as a reflection of the fascistic times or a comment on PLN’s effectiveness, we are currently facing more attempts at censorship than at any time in the past 30 years. PLN is the most censored publication in America.
What Have We Accomplished?
A question I have been asked is whether PLN is “successful.” Success is a relative term. When a French journalist asked Mao Tse-Tung in the 1960s if he thought the 1789 French Revolution had been successful, Mao reportedly replied, “It’s too soon to tell.” So too with PLN.
The prison and jail population in the U.S. more than doubled to 2.5 million people just in the time we have been publishing. By any objective standard, prison conditions, overcrowding, impunity and brutality are now far worse than at any time in the past 60 years. Draconian laws criminalize more behavior and impose harsher punishments in worse conditions of confinement than at any other point in modern world history. While some lip service has been paid about changing this state of affairs, no one in a position of power is even talking about the brutal conditions American prisoners are subjected to on a daily basis in the U.S., or providing any type of accountability or oversight of the criminal justice system, or repealing the thousands of harsh laws that have led the U.S. to become the world’s leading carceral state. The idea of American prisoners having enforceable rights as to the conditions of their captivity is anathema to the American ruling class. By contrast, primates used in medical experiments have far more enforceable rights for humane conditions of confinement than do American prisoners.
The legal rights of American prisoners are diminishing daily under coordinated attacks by conservative courts, yellow journalism, and reactionary politicians. The corporate media and lawmakers alike thrive on a daily diet of sensationalized crime and prisoner bashing, while prisons and jails consume ever-increasing portions of government budgets to the detriment of everything else – such as education, affordable housing and social services. The COVID pandemic has given sharp illustration to the utter contempt politicians and the government hold for the lives of American prisoners. As tens of thousands of prisoners have been infected and hundreds if not thousands have died, prisoner releases have been few and far between. By contrast, the Islamic Republic of Iran, no bastion of human rights, furloughed nearly 30% of its prison population to deal with COVID among the remaining prisoners.
PLN has duly chronicled each spiral in this downward cycle of repression, neglect, indifference and violence. We have provided a critique and analysis of the growth of the prison industrial complex and have exposed the daily human rights abuses that are the grim reality of the American gulag. While some people purported to be shocked when the American military torture chambers in Iraq were first exposed by the photos taken at Abu Ghraib, we could sadly point out that PLN had been reporting similar incidents in American prisons since 1990, and still do. Americans had long been subjected to what the Iraqis were getting. We were not surprised when it turned out many of the military guards torturing Iraqi prisoners were prison guards in civilian life who had been sued for beating and torturing American prisoners.
Even if we haven’t ended the evils of our time, we have struggled against them and did the best we could under the circumstances. That we have managed to publish PLN at all given the relentless opposition by prison and jail officials is a remarkable success. When I started PLN in my prison cell at Clallam Bay, I never thought I would be writing this retrospective 30 years later in the same magazine. In this sense, I believe PLN has been successful.
But not all is gloom and doom. PLN has helped stop some of the abuses and also borne witness to what is happening and documented it for future generations. Recent years have seen an increase in interest and support for criminal justice and human rights issues in the United States; many of PLN’s critiques of prison slave labor and other issues have been picked up and adopted by labor groups and even some elements of the corporate media. Our censorship litigation has helped secure the First Amendment rights of hundreds of thousands of prisoners and publishers alike in many states, and our public records cases have helped ensure government transparency. We have done this with remarkably little in the way of funding and resources.
Ultimately, I believe that HRDC and PLN’s success will be measured by its usefulness to the prisoners, activists, journalists, attorneys and citizens who are working to make a difference for the better. We have tried our best to provide timely, accurate, helpful information that people can use in their daily struggle for justice.
The main obstacles that PLN faces are those faced by most alternative media: a lack of sufficient funds and the corresponding inability to reach more people with our message. Absent large-scale funding from outside sources to do outreach work, this will continue to be a problem. The other issues facing PLN are censorship by government officials, prisoner illiteracy – various studies have found that 40% to 70% of the prison population is functionally illiterate – and political apathy. Despite these difficulties, PLN has persevered and steadily grown. The need that led to PLN’s creation has only increased.
Mainstream media coverage of prison and criminal justice issues is often abysmal. Input from prisoners or activists is rarely sought. Since its inception, PLN has ensured that the voices of class-conscious prisoners and former prisoners are heard. We are proud of the fact that over the years many stories originally broken or developed by PLN have been picked up by other news sources, including the corporate media. Sadly, the independent prisoner press is largely dead. What had been a diverse, vibrant media no longer exists.
We are, however, heartened that a number of well-funded nonprofit news organizations have taken an interest in criminal justice news coverage. This includes The Marshall Project, The Intercept, ProPublica, The Appeal, Truthout and others who generously allow PLN to reprint some of their news coverage. This is a vast improvement. As I look back at the past 30 years of PLN issues, which have all blended into one big issue in my mind, it is worth noting that through the entire 1990s, 120 issues, PLN did very few reprints simply because there was so little to reprint. It was all pro-police state, all the time as Bill Clinton doubled the American prison population in the span of a decade and everyone in the corporate media and positions of wealth and political power, including nearly all of the mainstream civil rights organizations, thought this was a great idea.
After 30 years of publishing, it must be emphasized that PLN has always been very much a cooperative effort. PLN has had editors who bore the brunt of prison officials’ displeasure for speaking truth to power, but the reality is that PLN would never have been possible were it not for the many volunteers and supporters who have so generously donated their time, energy, skills, labor, advice and money. Prisoners’ rights and human rights have never been very popular causes in this country, and in today’s political climate it takes extraordinary courage and commitment to support a project like PLN.
Critical to our success has been PLN’s readers and subscribers. At the end of the day we serve the people who subscribe to our magazines and purchase our books. Our advertisers have enabled us to grow and bring our readers even more news and information and kept subscription prices low even as printing and postage costs have gone up. In 1990, a 12-issue subscription to PLN at 10 pages per issue cost $10. Thirty years later, prisoner subscribers can receive a year’s worth of 72-page PLNs for $30. The best deal in America!
Our supporters who have donated money above and beyond the cost of a subscription have long made possible the advocacy we do on behalf of prisoners. This includes the censorship litigation, our campaigns to end private prisons, prison slavery and seeking phone justice for prisoners and their families. Nowhere does your donation get more criminal justice bang for the buck than at HRDC.
A Collective Effort
We would like to thank all those people who have served on our board of directors over the years, first as Prisoners’ Legal News and now as the Human Rights Defense Center, PLN’s parent organization. Our current and former board members include Dan Axtell, Rick Best, Bell Chevigny, Scott Dionne, Howard Friedman, Mike Godwin, Judy Greene, Tara Herivel, Sandy Judd, Ed Mead, Janie Pulsifer, Sheila Rule, Ellen Spertus, Peter Sussman, Silja J.A. Talvi, Bill Trine, Michael Avery, Ethan Zuckerman and Rollin Wright.
We also want to give a collective shout out to all the attorneys who have co-counseled, advised and represented PLN on matters as diverse as internet law, public records requests, wrongful death cases and First Amendment censorship litigation; the columnists, contributing writers and investigative reporters who have supplied articles; our designers and layout artists; our donors; and our employees and volunteers.
Ultimately, the people who have contributed articles, subscribed and donated their time, energy and money are those who have made PLN possible. Without all of these contributions to PLN’s collective effort – and there are far too many to name here – we would have met the fate of the vast majority of alternative publications: PLN would have quickly folded. Instead, we have lasted 30 years and look forward to another 30 years of publishing and advocacy.