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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Steve Horn

PLN Files Cert Petition with Supreme Court Over Florida DOC Censorship

by Steve Horn

On September 14, 2018, Prison Legal News submitted a petition for writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving censorship by the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC), which has banned PLN statewide since 2009.

In October, eight friend of the court (amicus) briefs, on behalf of over 100 organizations and individuals, were filed on PLN’s behalf in support of its petition.

The cert petition followed an adverse May 17, 2018 ruling by the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, authored by Judge Ed Carnes, which upheld the district court’s judgment in favor of the FDOC on a First Amendment censorship claim, and in favor of PLN on a due process claim. The suit was filed against Florida prison officials in 2011 following an earlier, unsuccessful round of litigation over a similar issue. [See: PLN, Dec. 2011, p.32; Nov. 2005, p.29; Feb. 2004, p.27].

The appellate court found the FDOC’s censorship of PLN’s monthly publication was justified based on security concerns related to certain advertisements, including ads for pen pal services, businesses that purchase postage stamps and third-party phone services. The ruling was despite the fact that no other ...

HRDC Sues Oklahoma County Jail for Censoring Books

by Steve Horn

The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes Prison Legal News, filed a lawsuit on May 9, 2018 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma against Pontotoc County and Sheriff John Christian, for blocking the distribution of HRDC books sent to prisoners at the county jail.

HRDC alleges that beginning in April 2017, jail staff began rejecting two books – the Habeas Citebook and Protecting Your Health and Safety.

“Defendants censored these books and did not deliver them to the intended prisoner recipients at the Jail. Since April 2017, HRDC separately sent thirty of the books ... to various prisoners at the Jail,” the complaint states. “Twenty-nine of the books were returned to HRDC in their original packaging with writing on the outside stating simply ‘Refused.’”

HRDC contends that the censorship policy at the Pontotoc County jail violates both its First Amendment rights as a book publisher seeking to distribute reading materials and its due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Fourteenth Amendment applies because jail officials “failed to provide HRDC any notice or opportunity to appeal these censorship decisions,” the complaint notes. HRDC is seeking injunctive and declaratory ...

Washington: Jail Detainee Obtains $1 Million Settlement for Spinal Injury

by Steve Horn

Bryan Telford, who was held as a pretrial detainee at the King County Correctional Facility in Seattle, Washington in September 2016, recently obtained a $1 million settlement in a lawsuit filed against the county.

Telford suffers from frequent fainting – known as syncope – and suffered a ...

Podcast Produced by Wisconsin Prisoner Tackles Criminal Justice Topics

by Steve Horn

A Wisconsin state prisoner is leading the way in getting a new podcast out to the public that covers issues faced by people behind bars. Podcasts are radio-style audio series that can be downloaded and played on computers or smartphones.

Dant’e Cottingham, held at the Jackson Correctional Institution in Black River Falls, co-founded a podcast called Incarcerate US with his fiancée, Julie Cottingham. Julie, who is not in prison, serves as creative producer for the show; she told Prison Legal News that they both hope the podcast can shine a light on major issues in carceral facilities, which can eventually lead to reforms.

“[Dant’e] believes wholeheartedly that there is a way to prevent other teens from following in his footsteps and he knows through experience that there is a more effective way for the criminal justice system to deal with teens/other citizens,” Julie stated, noting that the 40-year-old Dant’e had been imprisoned since age 17. “He’s a passionate prison reform activist who believes that telling the stories of mass incarceration is vital to prison reform.”

In an interview with PLN, Dant’e said a major part of his motivation for starting Incarcerate US is ...

Washington State: Jail Phone Rates Increase as Video Replaces In-Person Visits

by Steve Horn and Iris Wagner

A comprehensive set of public records obtained by Prison Legal News from the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) and most of the state’s county jails indicates that the average cost of local and in-state phone calls made by Washington prisoners has steadily increased in recent years.

The records also demonstrate an ongoing shift toward video-based calling in county jails, which in some cases has resulted in the elimination of in-person, face-to-face visits. PLN uses the term “video calling” because “video visits” implies people are actually visiting each other rather than seeing their images on a screen. The records procured by PLN further indicate that some of the money generated from phone and video calling revenue at county jails, which is placed in Inmate Welfare Funds, is used to pay the salaries and benefits of jail employees instead of benefiting prisoners.

These developments have occurred despite the state’s proclaimed desire to lower phone rates for prisoners and, ironically, are partly due to a cap on interstate (long distance) prison and jail phone rates imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Using Washington’s Public Records Act, PLN obtained and reviewed telecom contracts for the Washington Department ...

Florida ICE Detention Center Restricts Detainees’ Observance of Ramadan

by Steve Horn

In the midst of Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for those of the Islamic faith, the Glades County Detention Center in Florida implemented a policy that banned some Muslim prisoners from participating in the religious observance.

One of the most fundamental parts of Ramadan is fasting from sunrise to sunset, which Glades County did not allow some immigrant detainees to do during the month-long period from May 15 to June 14, 2018. It was a story first reported by The Intercept, an investigative news outlet. The Detention Center also doubles as a jail for the county.

The Muslim detainees came by way of Somalia, seeking asylum in Senegal and – for a yet to be explained reason – somehow ended up in the United States. A war-torn nation, Somalia has been mired in civil conflict for decades and the detainees were reportedly brought to the U.S. via what was described as a modern-day “slave ship,” shackled on an airplane chartered by the Air Operations division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The United States has actively intervened in Somalia, with covert special operations troops on the ground running a secret Central Intelligence interrogation ...

Landmark Stanford Prison Experiment Criticized as a Sham

by Steve Horn

It’s a study widely taught in high school and college psychology textbooks as a prime example of how, as Lord Acton put it, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s also a study whose findings may very well have been falsely represented.

The study – the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment carried out by Prof. Philip Zimbardo – had already been called into question over the years, yet maintained legitimacy in mainstream psychology as a landmark piece of research. Zimbardo’s study revolved around a mock prison created at Stanford University, with 24 students randomly assigned the roles of “guards” or “prisoners.” The purpose was to observe the psychological effects on the participants; expected to last two weeks, the experiment ended after just six days due to the apparent trauma that some of the students experienced.

The conclusion, both at the time the study was conducted and as it was subsequently taught for decades, was that the subjects of the mock prison experiment quickly embraced their assigned roles, with the “guards” becoming authoritarian and sadistic, and the “prisoners” accepting the abusive authority of the guards and experiencing psychological trauma. The study was funded by the ...

HRDC Files Censorship Suit Against New Mexico Jail; Court Orders Dismissal Based on Mootness

by Steve Horn

The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes Prison Legal News, filed a federal lawsuit on April 16, 2018 against the San Miguel County Detention Center in Las Vegas, New Mexico for censoring PLN publications in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Beginning in February 2016, according to the complaint, the jail began rejecting PLN’s monthly publication and other materials sent to prisoners. In total, 39 pieces of mail sent to the San Miguel County Detention Center were returned to HRDC, including 16 issues of PLN and 19 softcover books.

HRDC argued that, under the First Amendment, such censorship constituted a violation of its right to free speech. It was also a violation of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment because the jail provided no notice to HRDC before returning the publications with labels saying “Refused.”

The complaint sought damages for claims that included “the suppression of HRDC’s speech; the impediment of HRDC’s ability to disseminate its political message; frustration of HRDC’s nonprofit organizational mission; the loss of potential subscribers and customers; and the inability to recruit new subscribers and supporters, among other damages.”

HRDC requested a jury trial on its claims against the ...

Formerly Incarcerated Chef Plans to Revolutionize Ramen

by Steve Horn

When Ron Freeman was released from prison in 1998, he returned to doing the two things he enjoyed the most: cooking and eating. He decided, after being incarcerated for nearly three years for drug possession at the Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, California, to put those passions to use and open a food cart in the Watts area of Los Angeles.

Starting with hot dogs and other popular street foods, he later founded a new business focused on the production of ramen instant noodles. Freeman learned from his time behind bars that ramen is one of the most popular items purchased from prison and jail commissaries.

“Ramen is a lifesaver,” he said in an interview with Prison Legal News. “My time in there would’ve been so much harder if I ... couldn’t eat the ramen.”

High Sodium Content

Ramen noodles have long had a reputation as a cheap, albeit fairly unhealthy, food for people without many financial resources. Freeman – who now lives in Victorville, California – has produced several new varieties with 40 percent less sodium than other brands.

Competitor noodle companies, mainly Maruchan and Nissin, currently sell the majority of ramen in institutional ...

With 27 Percent Unemployment, Jobs Crisis Hits Ex-prisoners the Hardest

by Steve Horn

 A new study published by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) – the first of its kind – reports that unemployment in the U.S. has hit former prisoners the hardest.

Titled “Out of Prison & Out of Work,” the report, released in July 2018, crunched survey data to show that 27 percent of an estimated five million ex-offenders nationwide are unemployed – or around 1,350,000 people. That compares to an overall national unemployment rate of around four percent.

The Prison Policy Initiative obtained its data from the National Former Prisoner Survey, conducted in 2008 under the auspices of the Prison Rape Elimination Act. That data, not available online, is stored in a warehouse at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

To put the ex-prisoner unemployment rate in context, it is “higher than the total U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression,” the PPI report explains. And it’s not a matter of being voluntarily unemployed or laziness, as critics often claim of those who lack a job.

“Our estimate of the unemployment rate establishes that formerly incarcerated people want to work, but face structural barriers to ...


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