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Articles by Paul Wright

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.

Of ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 legal ...

From the Editor

The 2016 elections are only a few weeks old and many people seem surprised that Donald Trump was elected president. What this means for prisoners at this point is a bit early to say, more so when juxtaposed against what might have happened had Hillary Clinton been elected.

In any event, the repressive apparatus of the modern American police state has long been in place. Obama’s administration has deported more immigrants than any other in U.S. history – around 2.5 million between 2009 and 2015. We already have over 800 miles of border wall separating the U.S. and Mexico, so presumably Trump will merely build upon the wall built by his predecessors; he isn’t starting anything new. With approximately 2.3 million prisoners held in abysmal and barbaric conditions nationally, we will see if Trump will reduce or boost those numbers. But neither candidate said anything about improving conditions for prisoners.

Clinton stated she would work to eliminate for-profit prisons, despite taking campaign donations from private prison firms and her husband’s bail-out that saved the private prison industry in 1999. The stock of private prison companies GEO Group and CoreCivic (previously Corrections Corporation of America ...

From the Editor

By now everyone should have received our special fundraiser issue, which includes our 2015 annual report. We don’t get many visitors to our office in Lake Worth, Florida, and when we do reactions tend to fall into two categories when people realize we have 15 full-time staff members dedicated to advocating for prisoners and their families. Either they thought we were much larger because we accomplish so much, or they thought we were much smaller because as long-term supporters they remember the good old days when I edited the magazine from prison and we had an all-volunteer staff. Our annual report provides a good overview of the depth and breadth of the work we do – from our litigation around the country, including the amicus briefs we file, to our advocacy with the Federal Communications Commission and other federal agencies, to our public speaking engagements to the many media interviews we do, and much more.

Every month it takes a team of people to ensure readers are sent, and can receive, their issues of PLN and book orders. Besides myself there is PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann; Susan Schwartzkopf, our advertising director and Chief Financial Officer; Judy Cohen, our office ...

From the Editor

PLN has opposed the private prison industry since we began publishing in 1990; back then the industry was in its infancy, having started in 1983 in its modern incarnation. Besides the political and moral implications of farming out correctional functions to for-profit corporations, there has been the well-documented reality that private prisons tend to be even worse than government-run facilities in such areas as safety, transparency and staffing levels. Nor has there been any evidence that they actually save the government money.

So it was a surprise when I heard the U.S. Department of Justice’s announcement in August 2016 that it planned to phase out its use of private prisons because, well, they were less safe and more violent than their Bureau of Prisons (BOP) counterparts and, by the way, there was no evidence they were any cheaper.

That it took the federal government a scant 33 years to realize this is a testament to the fact that they do not read Prison Legal News, or any other independent media outlet that has reported extensively on the private prison industry. This month’s cover story on private prison cost-shifting by PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann is a brief ...


 

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