By Christopher Zoukis
For more than 20 years, Prison Legal News has been “dedicated to protecting human rights” in the form of an independent monthly magazine focusing on criminal justice-related issues. As criminal justice is a broad-ranging topic, most of the publication’s attention is given to prison and prisoner related issues. Published by the Human Rights Defense Center, a nonprofit organization, the Vermont-based Prison Legal News seeks to inform both prisoners and the general public on various aspects of prison-related issues and incarceration policies.
The monthly publication, which as of 2011 had around 70,000 readers, analyzes prisoner rights, court rulings and news about diverse aspects of life in incarceration, both in the U.S. and internationally. This includes such topics as religious freedom, court access and free speech for incarcerated individuals. It also covers many current criminal justice and prison practices, such as the death penalty, excessive force and prison conditions.
The publication pays a great deal of attention to prison medical treatment, as well as female prisoner issues, such as abuse of female prisoners and prison rape. Legal issues, both in court and within prisons, are also given analysis and commentary.
Many of Prison Legal News’ 70,000 readers are currently inmates in federal and state prisons. A special $30 subscription fee for inmates—which is up to $90 for non-inmate readers—allows those in prison to better inform themselves on critical issues related to incarceration. Further, it shows a sense of solidarity and caring from the outside world for those who feel tremendously isolated while serving jail sentences. It also provides useful advice and key resources or networks that can potentially give inmates recourse if they feel they have been wronged by the criminal justice system.
However, those in prison are not the only ones who benefit from Prison Legal News. Lawyers interested in advocacy related to any number of prison issues, from the death penalty to prison conditions, are able to stay informed and gain valuable networking contacts by subscribing to the magazine. Corporations interested in donating money to nonprofit causes related to prison reform could gain valuable insight into the state of our criminal justice system. Similarly, academics in the process of research find Prison Legal News to be an invaluable resource.
Finally, and most importantly, the public can make better-informed decisions during local, state and federal elections with a broader understanding of prison issues.
To further its goal of informing the public on criminal justice issues, Prison Legal News also has aggregated a list of more than 50 relevant books that may be purchased directly through its website. The books range from guides to dealing with the court system, such as legal dictionaries or criminal law summaries, to more abstract and critical books that serve to educate prisoners on social and political issues like drug and alcohol abuse, problems with the media or which sectors of the economy benefit from increased incarceration rates. Its book list offers a complementary tool for educating prisoners, various interested parties and the public.
Given its broad reach and substantive analysis, Prison Legal News is able to effectively communicate its overall goal of criminal justice reform. Its pragmatic monthly content keeps readers constantly updated on important subjects or changes happening at the state or federal levels. As an irreplaceable resource for prisoners and those interested in prison-related topics, Prison Legal News will continue to advocate for human rights in the years to come.