Dear HRDC Supporter,
We have been publishing Prison Legal News since May 1990. From our first issue our goal has been to give prisoners, their families, and advocates, timely, reliable information they can use to protect themselves and vindicate their fundamental human and civil rights. In that 30 year period, we have been impacted by hurricanes, earthquakes, censorship, recessions and more. Our readership and constituency have been impacted by a growing, repressive police state. Today we are jointly faced by the COVID-19 pandemic. We were in the middle of producing the April issue of PLN when the epidemic’s scope and severity became apparent. We immediately changed the cover story. Thanks to our good friend and colleague, Dr. Michael Cohen, the former chief medical officer of the New York state juvenile justice system, who was able to write a comprehensive article on preventing and mitigating COVID-19 in detention facilities that are attuned to the reality of American prisons in 2020. We put out a call to our imprisoned writers for information on what was happening in their facilities. It is in the mail to our prisoner readers now. The April PLN is available online here.
HRDC has 16 employees with offices in Florida, Seattle, and DC. Faced with the pandemic and keeping our staff safe, we are continuing to process subscriptions, book orders, and donations and more importantly, we are continuing to publish our magazines and litigate for the rights of prisoners to receive information and publishers and family members to send it.
Just this week a federal judge issued a permanent injunction holding that a Virginia jail’s ban on books and magazines was unconstitutional and ordering the jail to deliver HRDC materials and those of other publishers. The order is here. Can you imagine being locked in a cage and not being able to read anything affecting you personally and what is happening in the criminal justice system? That is the situation of prisoners around the country where HRDC’s legal team and our co-counsel are fighting hard to ensure prisoners can receive timely information about their legal rights and news they can use.
Last week the 9th circuit court of appeals ruled that a debit card company called Numi could be sued for taking arrestees' cash money and giving them a fee laden debit card. HRDC has represented our client, Danica Brown, since 2015 when she was arrested at a protest against police brutality and had $30 in cash seized and then had a debit card foisted on her where she was charged fees to access her own money! This landmark ruling holds that a debit card forced on a consumer at gunpoint is not a freely made transaction. Read the ruling here.
Long before COVID-19 even existed we have reported on the abysmal health care American prisoners are subjected to. The April PLN reports plenty of medical issues unrelated to COVID-19 that long predate the pandemic and are likely to be around long after it ends. We are committed to bringing our prisoner readers ongoing information on COVID-19 and its criminal justice impact in a timely manner. Unlike you who are reading this online, prisoners don’t get internet access and cannot read the news online. PLN and our companion publication Criminal Legal News, are the only prisoner rights print magazines with a national circulation in our countries prisons and jails. Especially for prisoners in maximum security prisons, HRDC publications are sometimes the only news they can receive. Our award-winning media and journalism work receives virtually no foundation funding. Everything we do relies on donations from people like you, subscriptions and advertising revenue. Our censorship litigation which is unparalleled in American history relies exclusively on individual donations.
Despite the urgency of COVID-19, we are not losing sight of the fact that a deadly pandemic is only worsening all that is wrong with the American police state. The beatings, shootings, restraints, surveillance, forfeitures, money seizures, retaliation, censorship, etc., are not stopping just because a deadly disease is ravaging the globe and in the process exposing the already terrible medical care prisoners receive. Keeping things in perspective is critical at a time when we see police agencies refusing to process public records requests pertaining to their COVID-19 responses, where prisons and jails won’t give media access to their facilities or answer questions about the safety of the prisoners and staff alike.
If you believe in a free independent media that reports exclusively on the criminal justice system and actually advocates and fights for progressive change and stands up for the First Amendment and free speech rights, then this is your opportunity to make a donation to help support it. We urgently need your support to meet the need for more and faster COVID-19 reporting. Consider buying gift subscriptions for a prisoner, subscribing yourself, making a donation, buying a book for a prisoner or donating so we can provide a book to a prisoner and encouraging the people in your social network to do so.
As our 30-year track record of prisoner rights advocacy demonstrates, we are in this for the long haul and with your help and support, we will make it through COVID-19 together. Please donate what you can.