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About the Human Rights Defense Center

The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) was originally founded in 1990 in Washington state as Prisoners' Legal News (later Prison Legal News). The initial purpose of the organization was to publish a monthly newsletter of the same name to give a voice to prisoners, their families and others affected by criminal justice policies in Washington. By 1993 the newsletter had grown into a magazine with nationwide news coverage and circulation.

In 1996 the organization received a small grant from the Southern Poverty Law Center which enabled HRDC to hire its first full-time employee. The following year, with the publication of The Celling of America: An Inside Look at the U.S. Prison Industry, an anthology of articles published in Prison Legal News (PLN), HRDC began distributing books that critique the criminal justice system as well as self-help and reference books of interest to prisoners. Two other anthologies of PLN articles have since been published, Prison Nation (2002) and Prison Profiteers (2007). HRDC has also published a number of its own books, including The Prisoners' Guerrilla Handbook to Correspondence Programs in the United States and Canada (3rd edition 2009), the Prison Education Guide (2016), The Habeas Citebook: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel (1st edition 2010, 2nd edition 2016) and the Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual (2015). 

HRDC currently distributes around 50 different criminal justice, legal and self-help titles, and continues to publish Prison Legal News, which has become a 72-page monthly publication with subscribers in all 50 states and internationally. We also publish Criminal Legal News, which reports on criminal case law and news related to prosecutors, policing and sentencing. In addition to publishing, HRDC engages in prisoner rights litigation; we have a robust litigation project that has filed suit against prison and jail officials nationwide. 

We also coordinate several special projects, including the national Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, which seeks to reduce the cost of phone calls made by prisoners to stay in contact with their families, friends and loved ones. We co-founded the campaign in 2011, and maintain the campaign website on the Nation Inside platform,, as well as a related data site,

Additionally, HRDC founded the Stop Prison Profiteering campaign (, which targets the financial exploitation of prisoners and their families through fee-based video visitation, debit release cards and money transfer fees, among other services.

HRDC's Prison Ecology Project ( examines the intersection between criminal justice and environmental justice, including the impact of detention facilities on the environment (such as sewage spills into local waterways from prisons and jails), and the impact of the environment on prisoners and prison staff (such as facilities built on landfills or former coal mines, or that have water supplies contaminated by arsenic, or are located in flood zones or near Superfund cleanup sites).

And our Private Prison News site tracks information and news related to the private prison industry.

From the modest beginnings of a prison-based newsletter with a $50 budget and an all-volunteer grassroots base, HRDC has grown into a national 501(c)(3) organization with 18 employees, including four staff attorneys. HRDC is headquartered in Lake Worth, Florida and has offices in Seattle, Washington; Nashville, Tennessee; and Washington, D.C.

For more information about HRDC's work and accomplishments please review our annual reports.