As Joe Biden takes office as president it will be interesting to see which, if any, of the very modest promises he made as a candidate relating to criminal justice reform he will actually carry out. Given his 50-year political track record as a shill for banks and the police state I am not optimistic that he will end the federal death penalty, abolish private prisons or do much if anything progressive or positive for prisoners and their families. But hopefully I am wrong, and after 50 years of building the modern American police state Biden will try to undo some of the damage he has done.
It is telling that with the exception of private prisons, there is a deafening silence at all levels politically about giving prisoners enforceable rights or even improving their conditions of confinement as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through the country’s prisons and jails.
Repealing the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) and the 1994 Crime Control Act and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) would all be a good start. All three laws are the Clinton administration’s legacy that helped to double the nation’s prison and jail population in a decade, eviscerated what few rights prisoners had to humane conditions of confinement, and gutted a modest and largely non-existent federal habeas corpus review.
On December 10, the Human Rights Defense Center, which publishes PLN, celebrated its 30th anniversary with a virtual event. Journalist and PLN contributor Victoria Law was the master of ceremonies and Yale Law Professor James Forman Jr., was our keynote speaker. We are now distributing James’ book, Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America and Victoria’s book, Prison by Any Other Name: The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reforms. The event is now available online on YouTube and at: https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/#video-IB48SQtV9yE. I would like to thank our many sponsors who made it possible and everyone who has viewed it. We will keep the video up indefinitely so it is never too late to check it out.
With winter here, COVID-19 numbers, for both infections and deaths, continue to climb with prisons and jails having the highest numbers of both. As this issue of PLN goes to press, various vaccines are being rolled out, yet in many states, prisoners have been excluded from the list of those set to receive the vaccine early despite being at the highest level of risk. We will continue reporting developments around COVID-19 as they occur.
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