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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Paul Wright

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

Each summer there is a wave of heat-related deaths in American prisons, mostly in the southern states of the former confederacy where the government has adopted a policy of explicit cruelty by building prisons without air conditioning to ensure the misery of the caged. This year will be no different, so we are getting the summer started with an overview of recent litigation and other developments on the excessive – and sometimes fatal – summer heat that U.S. prisoners suffer. What is often overlooked in these stories is the pathetic state of work conditions for staff members. While prisoners endure sweltering cell blocks during the summer months, so do the guards assigned to watch over them; apparently they are content to sweat their way through 40-hour work weeks. It is not about the cost of air conditioning prisons so much as cruelty and making sure prisoners are as miserable as possible, even if it kills them.

On the topic of miserable conditions in the deep south, on May 15, 2018, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the censorship of Prison Legal News by the Florida Department of Corrections. The FDOC has censored all issues of ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

Deaths in jails are all too common in the United States, especially from medical neglect and untreated injuries. They are also usually ignored, as jails have even less oversight than state or federal prisons. Systemic patterns of jail deaths are nothing new, but the occasional media inquiry into them is.

This month’s cover story by the Seattle Met is a good example of what happens in county lockups in every state. Reports like this expose the dramatic need for litigation at the local level to help ensure minimal standards of medical care for jail detainees given the total lack of political will and interest by sheriffs and county officials. Kudos to the Seattle Met for a great investigative piece and for allowing us to reprint it.

We are gearing up for a busy summer here at the Human Rights Defense Center, with an active litigation docket, numerous journalism projects and a record number of interns preparing to spend the summer working on prisoner rights-related issues. Our latest monthly publication, Criminal Legal News, continues to grow and just published its sixth issue with a circulation of almost 1,000 subscribers. If you are interested in policing, sentencing issues ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

Welcome to the 28th anniversary issue of Prison Legal News. If someone had told me in 1990, when PLN first started, that nearly three decades later we would not only still be publishing but I would still be serving as the editor and we would have 19 employees, I would have been incredulous.

When Ed Mead and I founded PLN while incarcerated in Washington State, we had $300 between us to publish six issues. We had discussed how we would continue to publish, and decided that as long as donations and subscriptions kept coming in we would keep publishing. They did, and we haven’t stopped since then.

Each year the list of people who support PLN and our parent organization, the Human Rights Defense Center, grows longer. Those who have made our work possible have ranged from the many unpaid volunteers who helped us get started in the early 1990s to our board members, employees, the attorneys who ensured prisoners could actually receive and read PLN, our advertisers, donors and of course our subscribers.

The first issue of PLN was 10 pages long and we requested a $10 donation for a 12-issue subscription. That we have grown ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

I would like to thank everyone who donated to HRDC’s annual fundraiser last year. When we started our fundraiser, our goal was to raise enough money to be able to hire a full-time investigative reporter. Within a few weeks, though, we were evicted by the City of Lake Worth from the office we had occupied for over four years, and forced to relocate. The short-notice eviction forced us to have to quickly find new office space and incur additional expenses we had not anticipated. Fortunately, many of our readers and supporters stepped up and made additional donations to help us with those unexpected costs.

The first week of January, we moved into our new office and the move went quickly and uneventfully. We now rent our own office building, which we do not share with other tenants, and it meets our current needs. The downside is that we had a significant increase in rent and expenses from what we were paying at the prior location.

I would like to thank everyone who made a donation to help us with the move. The pictures show our new office as well as all HRDC staff except Deborah Golden, a ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

For the past 27 years we have reported on the private prison industry and its expansion. Despite a lot of rhetoric and dire or optimistic predictions (depending on who was making them at the time and their financial relationship with for-profit prison companies), the private prison industry has been largely stagnant in the past decade or so, controlling only about 8% of the nation’s prison population.

Companies like CoreCivic (formerly CCA) and GEO Group have made incredible profits confining immigrant detainees under sweetheart contracts that pay them much higher amounts for housing a fairly docile population. Given the vast over-classification of prisoners requiring maximum security, the pool of prisoners available to private prisons is somewhat limited. As previously reported in PLN, the private prison industry’s biggest fiascos have resulted from their attempts to run minimum- and medium-security facilities, where rapes, murders, escapes, riots and other assorted mayhem has resulted in unwanted media attention.

With the nation’s prison population in very modest decline, and the immigrant detainee population stubbornly refusing to grow despite President Trump’s best efforts, the for-profit prison industry is now expanding into “rehab” and reentry programs. We will see how well they fare. On the ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

This month’s cover story delves into the sexual harassment of Missouri DOC employees by their co-workers. As we see from recent news reports, relatively powerful men in the media and entertainment industry resign or get fired because they either can’t or won’t keep their comments or hands to themselves, or venture into outright sexual assault and rape. This makes me wonder when – or if – that degree of accountability will be applied to the American police state.

Over the years, PLN has repeatedly reported on sexual harassment and assault of prison and jail employees by their colleagues and co-workers. The largest sexual harassment and wage discrimination case in Connecticut history was, not surprisingly, against the state’s Department of Correction. Likewise, the largest reverse sexual harassment jury award in New Jersey involved a female lieutenant who demanded sex from a male subordinate.

In reviewing verdicts and settlements against prisons and jails, the most significant awards and payouts tend to involve employee litigation – and as jaded as we might be at PLN, the behavior of corrections staff towards their own is truly appalling even in the context of routine abuse and neglect of prisoners. The big takeaway ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

Welcome to the first issue of PLN for 2018. By the time you read this we should be moved into our new office in Florida. I would like to thank everyone who donated to help us with the unexpected expense of a sudden eviction by the City of Lake Worth; we will post pictures of the new office on our website once we get situated. That being said, our expenses are going up significantly since commercial rents have increased in Florida over the past 4 years. The move should not affect our publication schedule, but it might impact book orders. We will do our best to keep any disruptions to a minimum.

It is not too late to donate to our annual fundraiser! We are still trying to raise $75,000 in order to hire a full-time investigative reporter to cover criminal justice issues that the mainstream media isn’t reporting. If you can afford to make a tax-deductible donation towards that goal, please do so.

The only issue as old as the United States is that of slavery, and this month’s cover story explores one of the latest nuances of prison slave labor whereby criminal defendants are ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

Welcome to the last issue of PLN for 2017. We have had an exciting year with many notable accomplishments. By now everyone on PLN’s mailing list should have received the first issue of Criminal Legal News, and if you are interested in criminal case law, police-related litigation and the front end of the police state that feeds the prison machine then I hope you will subscribe to CLN as well. We expect CLN to grow in size as we build up more advertisers, so we will be bringing readers more news they can use. We are excited that the first issue of CLN has been published as smoothly as it has and I hope PLN readers consider subscribing to CLN.

By now you also should have received HRDC’s fundraiser packet, which provides an overview of our activities for the previous year as well as examples of the media coverage we received. After the fundraiser mailing was sent out we were focusing on launching CLN, as well as ramping up our new public records project, when we were notified on October 23 that the City of Lake Worth, Florida had bought the building where our office is ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

By now all PLN subscribers should have received our fundraiser mailing which includes our 2016 annual report and details our many activities, ranging from publishing and litigation to advocacy and media outreach. This provides a great overview of the depth and breadth of everything we do. We rely on donors like you to fund our advocacy and activism above and beyond publishing Prison Legal News; for example, our Prison Phone Justice and Stop Prison Profiteering campaigns rely almost entirely on funding from our readers.

All donations, no matter how large or small, make a difference in the work we do. Contributions are tax deductible and will have a real-world impact on the lives of prisoners around the nation. Please encourage your friends and family to make donations to support our work as well. If your prison or jail phone bill has gone down in the past 5 years thanks to our Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, why not donate 20% of the savings so we can continue working on these issues?

About two or three weeks after receiving this copy of PLN, all our subscribers will receive a free introductory issue of Criminal Legal News, our new ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

Over the past 27 years we have reported extensively on abuses in local criminal justice systems in the United States, including jails, to the point that they are more ongoing sagas of abuse and corruption that we update with the latest developments. This month’s cover story on the justice system in Cook County, Illinois is no different. Prison Legal News and the Human Rights Defense Center are also suing the Cook County jail for its ban on books and magazines; it should come as no surprise that facilities which routinely violate the 8th and 14th Amendments also have little regard for the First Amendment right to free speech.

If you have experienced delays in your communications with HRDC/PLN in September, we apologize. Hurricane Irma swung by our main office in Lake Worth, Florida and paid us a visit. The good news is that all of our Florida staff are fine and our office was not physically damaged, though we were without electricity for several days and had no Internet or phone service for a week. The post office also was closed and did not deliver mail for almost a week. As this issue goes to press ...


 

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