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From the Editor

For decades, prisoncrats have claimed that if they were given an opportunity to rectify complaints by prisoners there would be no need for litigation. Everyone involved knows that is a lie. Since the passage of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) in 1996, prisoners must exhaust internal administrative grievance systems before filing suit in federal court. Not surprisingly, prison and jail officials that have control over the grievance mechanism that allows them to be sued in the first place have not shown a willingness to address constitutional violations, much less provide monetary or injunctive relief.

This month’s cover story gives a good run down on the reality of what “administrative exhaustion” consists of around the country. More importantly, it is what happens when access to the federal courthouse door is controlled by the very officials being sued rather than the judiciary. The Human Rights Defense Center, which publishes Prison Legal News, frequently sues prisons and jails around the country for censoring our publications and on behalf of prisoners killed while in custody, neither of which is subject to the PLRA. We often send demand letters to prisons and jails in these cases seeking a prelitigation resolution to the claims and all too often we are simply ignored until we file suit.

With the change in presidential administration it remains to be seen what, if anything, will change for prisoners in federal custody as well as nationally. Probably not much for the better but hope springs eternal. COVID-19 continues to ravage the nation’s prisons and jails, sickening and killing prisoners and staff alike. Some states have included prisoners in the initial vaccine roll outs and others have not.

President Joe Biden campaigned on a promise of banning the use of private prisons, ending the federal death penalty and enacting criminal justice reform. We will see what actually happens given that both Biden and incoming Vice President Kamala Harris have long histories as staunch architects, advocates and promoters of an expansive, violent police state that arrests, kills and cages its citizens at the highest rates in human history, both in raw numbers and as a percentage of its population.

HRDC has been in the forefront of challenging the financial exploitation of prisoners and their families. An especially outrageous practice by predatory prison phone companies is that of requiring pre-paid phone accounts for prisoners and people who accept calls from them, and seizing the funds after so called “inactivity” periods as short as 30 days. That period can pass when a prisoner is transferred, placed in segregation, or the facility changes vendors.

If you have had your money seized by GTL or other prison phone companies in the past 10 years for “inactivity” HRDC is seeking plaintiffs to stop the practice and recover money for the people who have been affected. Please contact us with details at HRDC, Attn: GTL Litigation, P.O. Box 1151, Lake Worth Beach, FL 33460. These companies need to be held accountable. Help us do so and get your money back!

I would like to thank everyone who donated to HRDC’s annual fundraiser. Individual donations from our readers and donors help us do advocacy above and beyond publishing magazines. Please consider ongoing monthly donations and otherwise supporting HRDC the rest of the year. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and consider signing up for our free, daily e-newsletter as well.

Many prisoners signed up for our introductory six-issue COVID-19 subscriptions for $1 and those subscriptions are starting to expire. I hope you subscribe to PLN and also to Criminal Legal News as we are the only publications that provide timely, reliable information to prisoners that enables our readers to stay informed and better advocate for themselves. Use your COVID-19 stimulus money to stock up on multi-year subscriptions to both publications! The more subscribers we have, the lower our per issue costs and the longer we can keep our magazine subscription rates as low as they are. 

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