This issue of PLN marks our 32nd anniversary. Having published 384 issues since May 1990, we have been reporting on the growth of the American police state for 32 years as its prison and jail population has more than doubled from one million to almost 2.3 million reported in 2020. I would like to thank all the many people who have made our existence and growth possible over the years. This includes our volunteers, staff, donors, board members, attorneys, writers, advertisers and of course, our readers and subscribers.
One thing that has remained constant since day one is the prisoncrats’ desire to censor us. Our first three issues were censored by the Washington Department of Corrections. We have faced censorship by prisons and jails around the country ever since on a variety of pretexts, but it always boils down to the same thing: No one in a position of power likes to be criticized. It is telling that in 32 years of publishing, no one has ever claimed anything published in PLN or in Criminal Legal News is factually wrong. I think the reason government officials dislike our publications so much is because of the truths presented in our content.
The biggest change in the past 32 years is the disappearance of the prison press. When PLN started, there were over 50 independent prisoner-rights publications around the country. And I was reading every single one of them! California alone had at least six. Today the number is much smaller, probably fewer than five around the country. What has changed is that there are now more nonprofit newsrooms covering and reporting on criminal justice issues. This is good and I think reflects the independence of national nonprofit organizations relative to daily newspapers, which are much more easily influenced by the government and have seen their newsrooms shrink dramatically.
When Ed Mead and I started PLN from our respective prison cells in 1990, it was in large part because the corporate media mostly ignored prisoners and their families when discussing criminal justice issues that impacted them. Little has changed since then. One of the biggest changes, though, has been the advent of the Internet, which allows small publications like PLN to have a much wider impact and reach than we could ever have as a print-only publication. More importantly, it makes our whole archive of 384 back issues available to anyone in the world.
Up until around 1993, PLN ran 10-14 pages per issue, and we had around 300 subscribers, mostly in Washington state. Today we have almost 10,000 subscribers around the country, and our website receives over 600,000 unique visitors per month. Each issue runs 72 pages, and we estimate each copy of the print magazine is read by at least 12 people. Yet we still face censorship in states such as Florida. Other states are censoring all books and publications under guise of digitizing their mail systems to further financially exploit prisoners and their families.
If you are a prisoner reading this magazine, chances are you are doing so because the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes PLN and CLN, has sued your prison or jail to ensure you can access this and other publications. Since 1990 we have sued the federal Bureau of Prisons and state prison systems in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington, several more than once, plus dozens of local jails around the country. A huge shout-out goes to the dozens of lawyers and firms around the country that have represented HRDC in these suits to ensure prisoners can receive publications in general and PLN and CLN in particular. Since 2009, HRDC has had staff attorneys to focus on censorship and public records litigation, and we have been able to leverage our in-house counsel with other firms to ensure we can successfully challenge censorship wherever it arises.
As we move into our 33rd year of publishing, a lot remains the same: Prisoner medical care is still far from adequate and thousands die needlessly in American prisons and jails from violence and neglect each year, while private companies and their government collaborators continue seeing caged populations as profit centers to be monetized and ruthlessly exploited.
A critical issue to our ability to keep publishing every month is the financial support we receive from you, our readers. If you can afford to make a donation above and beyond your subscription cost, please do so. If you are one of the 11 people reading someone else’s copy, please consider getting your own subscription. Over the past 32 years we have continued publishing in the face of vigorous government censorship efforts, through earthquakes, hurricanes and snowstorms, while moving our offices across the country and surviving the COVID-19 pandemic. Not much has slowed us down.
Enjoy this issue of PLN, and please help support an independent prison media.
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