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Articles by Paul Wright

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

I want to thank everyone who has donated to HRDC’s annual fundraiser. Of course, anytime is a good time to donate and we are always in need of funding and support, not just at the end of the year. I would like to encourage readers to become ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

In 1994, President Clinton ended Pell grant eligibility for prisoners in legislation spearheaded by then-senator, and now presidential candidate, Joe Biden. That pretty much signaled the end of what little higher education existed in U.S. prisons, as state legislatures quickly followed suit to terminate whatever modest state ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

I am excited to report that The Habeas Citebook: Prosecutorial Misconduct, by former HRDC staff attorney Alissa Hull, is now available for purchase and shipping. Building on the success and popularity of The Habeas Citebook: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel,this book provides clear, concise information needed ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

For the past 29 years, HRDC has been reporting on the myriad problems in California prisons and the class-action lawsuits that have led to wholesale transformations of the criminal justice system in that state. The most significant prison conditions case of the 21st century is Plata ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

For at least the past 50 years, the U.S. government has purported to wage a war on poor drug users. Poor people who used drugs such as heroin, cocaine and marijuana were duly arrested, prosecuted, convicted, caged and even killed in vast numbers – yet with each doubling of the prison and jail population, drug users remained as ubiquitous as ever. Not only was the U.S. population the victim of this ongoing practice, but the countries where many of the drugs were produced were militarized, invaded, conquered and otherwise brought to their collective knees under the guise of fighting a “War on Drugs” that has no end in sight.

When I was incarcerated, a fellow prisoner named Douglas Housley, who had been convicted of being a drug chemist, once told me that the only difference between him and the pharmaceutical industry was that they had better laboratories to produce drugs. At the end of the day, their end goal of getting people high to escape their reality was the same as his. That people have long used drugs to get high, drunk or otherwise alter their perception of reality or escape it should come as no surprise. ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

Prison Legal News has long reported on control units in general and the federal “super max” prisons in particular, first USP Marion in Illinois and then ADX in Florence, Colorado after it opened in 1995. Many of the worst human rights abuses in American prisons occur in segregation units, and the entire concept of a “super max” facility based on total isolation reveals its true nature as a torture center and inherent human rights violation. This month’s cover story, reprinted from The Nation, details the practice of force-feeding prisoners held in solitary confinement units, who are so isolated and silenced that they consider starving themselves to be the only means of protest available.

Just to be clear, the force-feeding of prisoners in the U.S. is a thinly disguised form of torture in itself. That it happens in the secret bowels of the American police state far from public view merely highlights the horrific nature of the abuse to which prisoners denied self-determination are subjected. While the force-feeding of prisoners held at the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp in Cuba received widespread media coverage, the same practice in federal and state prisons has received little attention. [See: ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

This month’s cover story about prison education seems like a well-worn but broken record. In 1994, President Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which, as I noted at the time, was the biggest foray by the federal government into so-called anti-crime legislation in the 1990s if not in U.S. history. The government massively expanded the federal death penalty, lengthened prison terms, gave prison building grants to the states and basically shoveled money at the states to encourage them to imprison even more people. The bill was so wildly successful that today, even while its critics are largely mute about its massive impact on mass incarceration, there is no talk of repealing it. One of the most overlooked but harmful aspects of the law was the ban on federal Pell grants for prisoners.

Prior to the elimination of Pell grants, most prison higher education programs were funded through such grant awards with limited supplemental state funding. With the Pell grants no longer available, virtually all states followed suit and eliminated whatever postsecondary prison programs that remained. The irony is that so long as prison education has been studied, it has been shown to ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

This month’s issue of PLN is dedicated to the memory and work of Randall “Randy” Berg, a long-time advocate for prisoners’ rights and human rights who died on April 10, 2019 at the age of 70 following a struggle with ALS. I was fortunate to be able to interview Randy at length on his final day at work in December 2018, and believe that was the last interview he gave. I attended his memorial service, which was packed with friends and colleagues.

Randy was one of PLN’s earliest subscribers in the early 1990s, when we were still focused mostly on news and events in Washington State. He represented us when the Florida DOC censored PLN between 2003 and 2005, and again in a second round of censorship litigation between 2009 and 2019. I corresponded with Randy while I was in prison and then met him once I was released. I hope my interview does justice to his career and his lifelong commitment to advocating for prisoners and other marginalized populations.

I had originally planned to publish this interview at some later point when Florida prisoners would be able to read it, since the Florida ...

PLN Interviews Randy Berg, Director of the Florida Justice Institute

by Paul Wright

On December 27, 2018, Prison Legal News editor Paul Wright interviewed Randall C. Berg, Jr., executive director of the Florida Justice Institute (FJI) in Miami. It is fair to say that no one has done more for Florida prisoners in that state’s history than Randy. He was also instrumental in developing the first Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) system, which is used to fund legal programs and assistance for the poor. Thus far, IOLTA has generated around $5 billion for legal services for people who otherwise could not afford them.

This interview took place on Randy’s last day as FJI’s executive director. He had been diagnosed two years earlier with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and died of respiratory complications on April 10, 2019 at the age of 70.

Randy was one of PLN’s earliest subscribers in the early 1990s and we became friends over the years. He represented PLN in two censorship cases against the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC). I believe this was Randy’s last interview, and am sorry he did not get to see it in print and that Florida prisoners will not be able to see it either, since ...

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 ...