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Articles by Paul Wright

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

Welcome to the 29th anniversary issue of Prison Legal News! We published the first issue of PLN on May Day in 1990, which was 348 issues ago. At the time PLN consisted of 10 hand-typed pages and the inaugural issue was sent to 75 prospective ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

This month’s cover story reports on the landmark First Step Act, which is the first criminal justice reform bill in decades that might actually benefit some prisoners. Until now, the cavalcade of criminal justice legislation that has emerged from Congress over the past 200 years has been ...

In Memoriam: Jane Kahn (1954-2018)

by Paul Wright

For the past 15 years, the San Francisco law firm of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP has represented Prison Legal News and its parent organization, the Human Rights Defense Center, in censorship and public records cases in California, Nevada and Arizona, and co-counseled other cases with ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

This month’s cover story reports on the long-familiar use of prison slave labor to perform dangerous, dirty work that few others in the U.S. are willing to do – and for slave wages at that. Ironically, with the current political attacks on undocumented immigrants who normally ...

Obituary: Rick Anderson, 1941-2018

by Paul Wright

On Christmas Eve 2018, PLN contributing writer Rick Anderson died of congestive heart failure at his daughter’s home. Rick was a long-time journalist. He grew up in Hoquiam, Washington and went to work as a copy boy at the Post-Intelligencer in Seattle. That started his career in ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

We have long reported on the phenomenon of jailhouse lawyers and other prisoners who, upon release, have gone to law school and become attorneys. While that phenomenon has been occurring for decades, it appears to be picking up – perhaps because there are simply more people going ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

Prison Legal News published its first issue in May 1990. The month before that, Washington became the first state in the nation to enact a civil commitment process for sex offenders and to create a sex offender registry. Those laws were passed shortly after a mentally ill sex offender named Earl Kenneth Shriner kidnapped, raped and mutilated an eight-year-old boy in Tacoma, and Gene Raymond Kane, a sex offender on work release in Seattle, kidnapped, raped and killed a woman named Diane Ballasiotes. Diane’s mother, Ida Ballasiotes, became a victims’ rights advocate who was later elected to the state legislature, where she headed the misnamed House Corrections Committee. We reported all this at the time in PLN, and almost 30 years later we have seen sex offender registries spread nationally, with civil commitment laws being enacted by almost half the states.

All the critiques we made in the 1990s when these statutes were first picking up steam have pretty much been borne out. We have repeatedly noted that civil commitment for the purported purpose of providing sex offender treatment has been a giant lie perpetrated by the government and willingly believed by the judiciary. After all, if ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

You are reading the last issue of Prison Legal News for 2018. This month’s cover story reports on the widespread practice of prison and jail officials censoring books, magazines and correspondence sent to prisoners. Increasingly, that includes restrictions or bans on books mailed from non-profit, volunteer-run Books to Prisoners (BTP) programs around the country, which send free literature to prisoners.

The first BTP program began in Seattle in the early 1970s as part of Left Bank Books, a radical book collective that was active in the liberation struggles of the day, which is still around and mailing books to prisoners almost 50 years later.

HRDC has long had good working relationships with many of the nation’s BTP programs, starting with the fact that they sent me books while I was incarcerated. In the early days of Prison Legal News, many of our volunteers who folded, stapled and mailed our then 10-page, photocopied newsletter were also BTP volunteers, or vice versa. When BTP projects around the nation gathered in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in 2007 for their first national conference, I was their keynote speaker. I frequently consult with BTP volunteers on censorship issues, and Michelle Dillon, our public records ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

For the past 28 years, Prison Legal News has reported on prison and jail medical care that ranges from abysmal to the barbaric. With the possible exception of California, whose prison system’s health care is under federal receivership, medical and mental health treatment for prisoners throughout the U.S. is universally terrible.

When the Arizona Department of Corrections was sued over poor medical care, the litigation was seen as long overdue. After that case settled it remained to be seen what, if any, commitment state officials had to actually improving health care for prisoners. As this month’s cover story indicates, the answer is not much. Despite well-documented evidence that privatized prison and jail medical care does nothing more than bilk taxpayers and kill prisoners through neglect and deliberate indifference, governmental infatuation with privatization continues.

It does not appear to be any surprise that the Arizona DOC and its medical contractor, Corizon Health, are unwilling to provide minimally adequate health care, with the latter being more focused on enriching its corporate owners. The privatization model is simple: get as much money from taxpayers as possible and deliver as little as possible in return.

Alas, in the medical context ...

Editorial: The Case Against Florida’s Amendment 4 on Felon Voting Rights

by Paul Wright

Florida leads the nation with over 1 million citizens disenfranchised and unable to vote due to felony convictions. The path to having their voting rights restored is long and difficult, and has been found unconstitutional by a federal judge. This November, Floridians who are able to vote ...