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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 – ...