By Paul Wright
This issue of PLN marks our 33rd anniversary of publishing. Since we published our first issue in May 1990 we have seen massive changes in the American gulag, starting with its sheer growth from a million prisoners to over 2 million a decade later and a bit more than that now. Some of the changes have been in the prison press. When we started PLN in 1990 our focus was on Washington state prisons. At the time, hundreds of prisons published their own in house censored publications and there were at least 50 or 60 independent prisoner rights oriented publications around the country. California alone published six.
As the 1990s wore on and the prison and jail population expanded at a rate of around 100,000 prisoners a year for the entire decade, we watched the demise of pretty much all prison related publications, in house and independent alike. During this process Prison Legal News slowly expanded its subscriber base across the country to include readers in all states. Today we have a national readership and have greatly expanded both our size, from 10 hand typed pages to 72 pages, our coverage, our subscriber base and also our impact.
We have come a long way since 1990 when Ed Mead, another Washington prisoner, and I hand typed the first issue of PLN in our respective prison cells. We have always had an outsize impact for our relatively small circulation. From our first issue our goal has been to help those who bring about social change. We have never aimed to be a mass circulation publication but one that provides timely and accurate news and information which can be used to bring about progressive change and reform. The biggest game changer since we started has been the internet. PLN has been online since 1999.
The first issue of PLN was mailed to 75 prospective subscribers and enough sent in donations to make a second issue possible and then a third and a fourth. Until 1993 we did not have over 500 subscribers. It is hard to compare the impact of small publications with such tiny circulations today and the reality that even if ten people read each newsletter that was still a readership of 5,000 people. Today the PLN website, at www.prisonlegalnews.org averages over 650,000 unique visitors each month from around the world.
In addition to PLN, in 2017 we launched Criminal Legal News to report on news and developments around policing and criminal law and it too has dramatically expanded both in print and online.
The idea that small publications with such narrow areas of coverage could reach so many people was not even in the realm of science fiction in 1990. By the end of the 1990s it was slowly becoming a reality and we saw it as a means to reach more people around the world.
Right now, one of our projects is to expand our reach even further by launching a multi media news program and start producing video and podcasting content. We hope to begin production in the near future and will announce it as soon as it is available. Our goal from the first day we started publishing until now has remained the same: give advocates and activists timely, accurate news they can use to bring about progressive prison and criminal justice reform and at the same time reach as many people as possible to inform and educate them about the realities of what happens in the day to day world of American policing and prisons.
That PLN has survived as long as we have while everyone else has gone by the wayside is thanks to the support we have received from you, our readers, as well as advertisers, donors, staff, volunteers, and our many other supporters. If you are a prisoner and reading this there is a better than average chance that you are able to read this magazine because at some point we sued the prison system you are in to ensure your ability to read PLN. Over the years well over two hundred attorneys and law firms have represented the Human Rights Defense Center to ensure prisoners can receive and read our publications and I am grateful to everyone who has been able to make this possible and ensure we have made it this far.
If you would like to continue supporting PLN please consider donating as well as subscribing. If you are reading someone else’s subscription of PLN, please consider getting your own subscription or sending a donation.
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