by Paul Wright
Most of PLN’s prisoner readers are housed in state or federal prisons and serving a sentence after being convicted of a crime. On any given day at least 500,000 people are being held in jails around the country, operated by cities, counties or Indian Tribes. The vast majority have not been convicted of a crime and are simply too poor to afford bail and those convicted of crimes are either awaiting transfer to a prison to serve their sentence or are serving sentences of a year or less.
Unlike prisons which are often built in remote rural areas far from urban media and power centers, jails are typically built in or near major metropolitan areas. As we see from PLN’s ongoing coverage of major jails around the country, this rarely means conditions are better or there is more oversight. As this month’s cover story on San Diego jails notes, and our other stories on jails in New York City, Los Angeles and other major cities amply document, the death toll and misery index is extremely high and marked by the same lack of transparency and accountability that permeate the prisons.
As we have reported on these stories over the years we find that about the only thing that tends to change are the dates and the names of the victims. This unchanging state of affairs can be attributed to a lack of political will to change the nature of the American police state to one that kills and maims fewer citizens than it does now. One reason for the lack of political will is that few if any politicians view the human rights of either prisoners or people interacting with the police to be of any concern. As I write this, we are in the run-up to November midterm elections that point to a lack both of electoral choice for voters and any concern about criminal justice issues among legislators. Many political races come down to politicians vying for who can get more endorsements from the police and who is promising to shovel even more tax payer money into the police state trough for those who gorge there. No one is calling for, much less campaigning on, the idea that just maybe not so many people should be dying in prisons or jails or at the hands of the police.
Subscribers will soon be receiving our annual fundraiser which runs down the many activities the Human Rights Defense Center is engaged in on behalf of prisoners and their families. This includes publishing Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News as well as publishing and distributing criminal justice related books, litigation, advocacy and much more. We rely on donations and support above and beyond the cost of subscriptions in order to do all the additional things we do.
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Earlier this year we published The PLRA Handbook: Law and Practice Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act by John Boston and it has gotten rave reviews. Anyone litigating a case against a prison or jail on behalf of a prisoner needs to have this book.
We are working on several new book projects that will likely not be available until the new year but we will announce their availability as we get closer to publishing them. One of the books we are working on is an updated version of the Diabetes Manual by Dr. Michael Cohen. HRDC has distributed the book at no cost to prisoners for almost 20 years. Alas, we ran out of the book last year and we have been working with Dr. Cohen to update it and print a totally new edition. The updates are taking longer than expected but we hope to have it finished by the end of the year. As soon as it is available we will advertise it in PLN and CLN. In the meantime, do not write us requesting copies as we do not have it in stock. The book is however available for download on our website, www.prisonlegalnews.org at no charge.
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