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Articles by Paul Wright

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 ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

The past 40 years have seen a massive rise in the use of solitary confinement throughout the United States as a means of psychological torture to destroy people. As federal courts enjoined official means of physical torture (prisoners were being flogged in the yard of the Tennessee State Penitentiary as recently as 1974), prison officials sought ways to inflict pain that were not as physical as beatings, floggings, electrocution, etc., yet served the same purpose of enforcing conformity and control. No other country in the world, or in human history, has engaged in the infliction of solitary confinement and psychological torture on prisoners on either the scale or scope as the United States.

We have reported extensively on the widespread use of solitary confinement in American prisons over the past 27 years and how that practice increased in the 1990s as entire prisons were designed and built on the premise of torturing prisoners through prolonged solitary confinement. One of the leaders in that movement was the state of Colorado (honorable mentions also go to Wisconsin, Virginia, California and Texas), but recently Colorado has made the most progress in reducing its solitary confinement population. Whether the state will ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

As the summer months wear on we are again reporting on the ongoing outrage of American prisons that are deliberately built without air conditioning in some of the hottest parts of the country. As an article in this issue of PLN notes, the death toll from heat exposure continues to climb in several states, all in the former Confederacy, which built prisons without climate-controlled cell blocks to intentionally subject prisoners to torturous conditions.

What is even more amazing is that in 2017 there is still debate as to whether or not exposing elderly and mentally ill prisoners to fatal heat levels can be considered “cruel and unusual punishment.” Also surprising is that guards are willing to work in such sweltering conditions and don’t consider it a workplace hazard. Even in punitive states like California, the employees are smart enough to avoid working in literal sweatshops even if that means prisoners get to enjoy air conditioning, too.

This issue’s cover story reports on the continuing abuses of civil asset forfeiture, whereby the government seizes money and property it claims may have been involved in criminal activity without actually convicting, or even prosecuting, anyone. While there have been ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

For the past 30 years, as mass incarceration rates have skyrocketed, so has the number of prisoners infected with hepatitis C (HCV). This is in part because so many prisoners are current or former intravenous drug users, and so much time and energy is spent arresting and imprisoning poor drug users. Illicit drug use behind bars and tattooing with dirty needles also contribute to the spread of HCV among prisoners.

For decades, prison officials have adhered to a policy of refusing to treat prisoners with HCV who were not exhibiting symptoms, claiming they were not yet in need of treatment, then once the prisoners were very ill they would refuse to provide treatment because it was too late or too expensive to do so.

With the recent advent of new drugs that can cure HCV with few debilitating side effects and shorter treatment regimens, the only excuse prison officials have for refusing to provide treatment is the high cost. Yet as repeatedly reported in PLN, when it comes to obtaining drugs to kill prisoners via lethal injections, many states will spare no effort or expense – purchasing execution drugs from compounding pharmacies and far-away countries like India ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

One of the constants in PLN’s coverage of criminal justice issues since our inception in 1990 has been the disparate, two-tier system of justice in the United States: one system for the wealthy, privileged and politically connected, and another for the poor and unconnected.

In most respects this is hardly news to anyone. I don’t know that anybody in this country believes for even a moment that rich people accused of crimes are treated the same as poor people, much less that they receive equal amounts of justice. Every few years we run a feature article on how wealthy defendants are treated in our judicial system. After publishing our last cover story several years ago, I was surprised that the PBS radio show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” used the story as the basis for one of their episodes. Apparently we do need to keep pointing out the obvious.

Since our prior coverage of this topic, the term “affluenza” has been coined to describe the practice of explaining (and excusing) criminal behavior by the wealthy. Of course the only thing that causes this social affliction is bias by prosecutors and judges. For those interested in a ...

From the Editor

This issue marks the 27th anniversary of Prison Legal News and our parent organization, the Human Rights Defense Center. When I first started publishing PLN from my prison cell in Clallam Bay, Washington in 1990, I didn’t think I would still be doing so 27 years later. We weren’t sure how long it would last but no one thought it would be this long.

In 1990 the U.S. imprisoned around a million people. By the end of the decade that number had doubled to 2 million and today hovers around the 2.3 million mark, give or take a few thousand. Among the drivers of mass incarceration has been the war on sex offenders. Sadly, PLN has had a front row seat for this unfolding debacle: a month before we began publishing, Washington became the first state to enact civil commitment for sex offenders and a sex offender registry. Three- and two-strike laws would come a few years later. As this issue’s cover story reports, sex offender regulations duly expanded and spread from there.

Today the government spends a huge amount of money – no one really knows how much but certainly in the millions of dollars – ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

This month’s cover story, an interview with former CIA officer John Kiriakou, is part of our ongoing series of interviews with interesting people who have experience with the U.S. criminal justice system. The interview with John is around 8,000 words. A longer version, at about 17,000 words, is posted on our website at www.prisonlegalnews.org and covers much more ground – such as the CIA’s covert operations, kidnapping and torture programs, and John’s prosecution. It explores the intersections between human rights overseas and torture at home, and the federal government’s war on whistleblowers and leakers.

Prior PLN interviews have been with people as diverse as Noam Chomsky, Conrad Black, Jeff Deskovic and Danny Trejo. Each has had a unique view of the flaws and problems with our nation’s criminal justice system. I will continue conducting these interviews as part of our process of expanding what passes for dialogue in the U.S. The interview with John was done before the presidential election, and it remains to be seen if the government’s attacks on the media and whistleblowers will subside or increase.

I read about John’s case when he was convicted and sent him ...

From the Editor

This issue’s cover story on release debit cards continues our coverage of this relatively recent phenomenon which exploits prisoners and arrestees by charging them fees to access their own money and all too often takes all or most of their funds when they are released from prison or jail. The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), PLN’s parent organization, has been on the forefront of reporting these abuses; we are also on the forefront of litigation challenging release debit cards and seeking justice for their victims. If you or someone you know has had their money taken and then returned on a debit card that charged fees to access the funds, or were unable to access the funds at all, please follow the instructions at the end of the cover story and contact us to let us know what happened as we want both potential plaintiffs to challenge these practices and people who can tell their stories. A copy of the paperwork provided with the debit cards, and the cards themselves, are also helpful.

We also have new books in the PLN bookstore. The Federal Prison Handbook by Chris Zoukis tells readers everything they need or want to know about ...

From the Editor

Since we started publishing PLN in 1990, the injustices of the parole system, or that of never-ending punishment and sentences without end, has been an enduring theme. In the 1970s it was prisoners’ rights activists and advocates who called for an end to parole and determinate sentencing as a means of righting the sentencing injustices that abound with a parole system. Five decades later these same problems continue. We have reported on the political vagaries of California’s parole process extensively over the past 26 years; this month’s cover story continues that coverage and exemplifies the axiom that the more things change the more they remain the same, at least with regards to our criminal justice system.

I would like to thank everyone who donated to our annual fundraiser. We raised over $60,000, which will allow us to hire another staff attorney to litigate and vindicate the rights of prisoners, their families and publishers who wish to communicate with them. Your donations make a real difference in the work we do and the advocacy we are able to undertake. I hope more readers and supporters consider becoming monthly donors and making a donation every month. Even small donations of $5 ...

From the Editor

Welcome to the first issue of PLN for 2017. If you have not yet donated to our annual fundraiser, it is not too late to do so! All donations help, from the smallest to the largest. It is your donations that allow us to carry out our advocacy work around issues like prison and jail phone rates, prison profiteering and prison ecology that we would otherwise not be able to do. If you can become a monthly sustainer, even for $5 a month – less than a cup of coffee in most cities – it would make a huge difference. If every person who reads this issue of Prison Legal News donated just $1 a month, that would be around $80,000 in additional revenue each month that we can use towards advancing prisoners’ rights.

Coming into the New Year we plan to publish at least two new books as well as distribute several more titles. We will announce the new titles as we add them. If there are books on topics that you would like to see available in PLN’s bookstore, please let us know.

We will continue to bring our readers cutting-edge articles on criminal justice-related news and ...


 

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