by Paul Wright
If this month’s cover story appears to be another case of déjà vu all over again, it is because we have been reporting on murder, mayhem and misery in the Philadelphia jail system for decades. As we have for many other large jail systems around the country. About the only thing that changes are the dates and some of the names, usually of the victims. The government officials and staff tend to remain fairly constant.
As PLN readers know, Philadelphia is far from unique when it comes to a total disregard for the life and safety of its prisoners. New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Miami, etc., the list of incredibly bad jails with high death rates, immense suffering and bloated budgets is pretty much as long as a list of cities themselves. Bad jail conditions are nothing new. Karl Menninger wrote about how terrible the Cook County jail in Chicago was in his seminal book The Crime of Punishment, published in 1966. The lack of will, interest or humanity by elected officials across the United States to even consider having humane conditions of confinement amply reflects their learned subservience to the police state which is characterized by its brutality and corruption, compounded by a lack of transparency and accountability. Some of the more obvious failures of the American political system, (I dare not call a system which disenfranchises millions of its citizens due to their criminal justice status a “democracy”), are its inability to safely cage the 2.3 million people it imprisons in a safe manner much less one that treats people with human dignity and even tries to keep them alive.
Since the protests in Washington DC last January over the presidential election outcome we have received a fair number of messages and emails from a variety of people informing me of how bad conditions in the DC jail are and asking why aren’t we reporting on these horrible conditions and abuses? Well, actually we have. Since 1990 PLN has published dozens of articles about the horrible conditions in the DC jail. Unlike the newly indignant, we think it violates both the constitution and international human rights treaties to cage people in these conditions, not just because the prisoners eliciting the concern tend to be white, middle class Trump supporters. We were reporting on these conditions decades ago when it was all pretty much poor Black and Hispanic prisoners crowded into the DC jail.
As the summer winds on we are seeing record high temperatures in many parts of the country as well as forest fires and many other conditions that impact prisoners caged in prisons with no air conditioning and often in dangerous areas. As the planet gets hotter we will likely be seeing more extreme weather events having even greater impacts on prisoners who, unlike non prisoners, are unable to move or relocate to get out of harm’s way.
Our most recent book is The PLRA Handbook: Law and Practice Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act by John Boston and it is getting excellent reviews as the most comprehensive and authoritative guide to the PLRA that has ever been written. Anyone litigating cases on behalf of prisoners or are pro se prisoner litigants, will benefit greatly from this book. Every possible question about the PLRA is answered. See ordering details on page 37.
Last month I commented on the impact the reversal of Roe v. Wade would likely have on prisoners in states which ban abortions. Upcoming issues of PLN will report this impact on the criminal justice system and prisoners in more detail.
The Human Rights Defense Center, which publishes Prison Legal News, has been having a very busy summer of litigation and book editing. Normally summer has slow months that allow us to work on longer term projects but not this year. We are winning the majority of our cases and duly reporting them in PLN. Among the book projects we are working on are updates to the Diabetes Manual and Protecting Your Health and Safety and an anthology of criminal justice issues. As the new books are published we will promptly let readers know of their availability.
We are faced with an incredible amount of challenges these days just to publish PLN and Criminal Legal News. We are being impacted by supply chain issues affecting everything including paper and even the ink in the magazines. Prices are increasingly going up on everything we use to print and produce books and magazines and that also includes the salaries of our employees, office space, etc.
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