Human Rights Defense Center Staff
Executive Director: Paul Wright
Paul Wright is the founder and Executive Director of the Human Rights Defense Center. He is also editor of Prison Legal News (PLN), the longest-running independent prisoner rights publication in U.S. history. He has co-authored three PLN anthologies: The Celling of America: An Inside Look at the U.S. Prison Industry (Common Courage, 1998); Prison Nation: The Warehousing of Americas Poor (Routledge, 2003); and Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Imprisonment (New Press, 2008). His articles have appeared in over 80 publications, ranging from Counterpunch to USA Today. A former prisoner, Paul was imprisoned for 17 years in Washington state until his release in 2003. During and since his incarceration he has successfully litigated a wide variety of censorship and public records cases against prison systems around the country, both as a pro se plaintiff and on behalf of PLN. Paul is a former military policeman, a graduate of the University of Maryland with a degree in Soviet History, and the former National Lawyers Guild Jailhouse Lawyer co-vice president (1995-2008). He is a 2005 Petra Fellow, the Freedom Fighter of the Month for High Times magazine in July 2006, a 2007 recipient of the James Madison Award from the Washington Coalition for Open Government, the 2008 inaugural recipient of the National Lawyers Guild's Arthur Kinoy award, and a 2011 recipient of the Distinguished Public Interest Service Award from the City of New York Law School.
Associate Director: Alex Friedmann
Alex Friedmann is the Associate Director of HRDC and managing editor of Prison Legal News. He is responsible for news research, investigative research, editing, advocacy campaigns and other tasks, including litigation support as a paralegal. He also serves in a volunteer capacity as president of the non-profit Private Corrections Institute and is a national expert on the issue of prison privatization. He has testified before a Congressional subcommittee and legislative committees in two states on criminal justice-related issues, and has spoken at numerous conferences and other events -- including Critical Resistance, the National Lawyers Guild, the Children Defense Fund's annual conference, a Congressional caucus meeting and a Congressional briefing. Alex served 10 years in prisons and jails in Tennessee, including six years at a privately-operated CCA facility. While incarcerated he litigated his own cases in state and federal court; served as the resources editor of Prison Life magazine, a national publication; self-published the Private Corrections Industry News Bulletin; and founded and directed a non-profit prisoner organization called the Pledge Program. He is based out of Nashville, Tennessee. His CV is available here.
Chief Finance Officer: Susan Schwartzkopf
Susan Schwartzkopf is HRDC's Chief Finance Officer. She is also the advertising director for Prison Legal News and editor-in-chief for Prison Legal News Publishing. Susan is a graduate of Indiana University and holds an MA degree in English from the School of International Training. She taught English as a Second Language for 12 years to adult immigrants at the Center for New Americans in Greenfield, Massachusetts before joining HRDC in 2007.
General Counsel & Litigation Director: Sabarish Neelakanta
Sabarish Neelakanta ("Sab") is a seasoned trial attorney having litigated over 50 jury and bench trials, and dozens of appeals in state and federal courts. Sab was a former Assistant Public Defender in the felony trial division for Palm Beach County, Florida, and was named Best Trial Advocate at the Public Defender College sponsored by the Florida Public Defender Association. He later founded a litigation firm in West Palm Beach, Florida and was recognized as an “Up and Comer” by Florida Trend magazine – a designation reserved for only 2% of the more than 67,000 active Florida Bar attorneys. He has worked on countless criminal justice issues ranging from sentencing to felon disenfranchisement, and has been a speaker on prison conditions, the PLRA, and censorship issues. Sab is also a graduate of the Western Trial Advocacy Institute (Gerry Spence Trial College) and was inducted as a lifetime member to the National Order of Barristers. Prior to joining HRDC, Sab was the Advocacy Director for the Inter-American Center for Human Rights, a researcher with the U.S. Committee for Refugees in Washington, D.C., an activist and a writer. In law school, Sab was appointed the Editor-in-Chief of the ILSA Journal of International and Comparative Law, and was the founding officer and president of the American Constitution Society. Sab is an active member of the Trial and Public Interest Lawyers Section of the Florida Bar, the American Civil Liberties Union, and has served on the Board of Trustees for the Craig S. Barnard, American Inns of Court. He is admitted to practice law in all Florida state courts, the U.S. District Courts for the Southern and Northern Districts of Florida, the District of Columbia, the Eastern District of Michigan, the Central District of Illinois, the District of New Mexico, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court. He holds a B.A. from Florida Atlantic University, an M.A. from the George Washington University, a J.D. from Nova Southeastern University, and graduated from the foreign language/studies programs at the Johns Hopkins University (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. and Kansai University in Osaka, Japan.
Paralegal: Rachel Stevens
Rachel Stevens, a Florida native, joined the Human Rights Defense Center as a paralegal in March 2014. She graduated from John I. Leonard High School and received an Associate's Degree in Legal Studies from South University. Rachel has worked successfully in the customer service and hospitality industry for over twelve years.
Paralegal: Kathy Moses
Kathy Moses joined the Human Rights Defense Center as a paralegal in June 2016. Kathy is a graduate of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida and holds a BS degree in Journalism. She also earned an A.S. Degree in Paralegal Studies from Palm Beach State College. She has worked as an office manager, legal secretary and copy editor. Originally from the Boston area, Kathy has called South Florida home for over 30 years.
Prison Phone Justice Director: Carrie Wilkinson
Carrie Wilkinson joined the Human Rights Defense Center in January 2014 to reopen our Seattle office and start up the Washington Prison Phone Justice Campaign. Carrie was a Senior Litigation Paralegal with the civil rights firm of MacDonald Hoague & Bayless, where she worked for nearly 20 years prior to joining HRDC. She was lead paralegal on several PLN censorship cases, including Prison Legal News v. Lehman, 397 F.3d 692 (9th Cir. 2005) and Prison Legal News v. Columbia County, 942 F.Supp.2d 1068 (D. Or. 2013). As HRDC’s Senior Litigation Paralegal she also participates in the development and implementation of new litigation processes and procedures as well as high-level casework.
Social Media Director: Monte McCoin
Monte McCoin joined HRDC in 2010 as a part-time proofreading and copy assistant in support of the print edition of Prison Legal News. She now serves as HRDC’s social media director, which includes social media management, e-newsletter editing and production, news gathering and journalism. She is a 2014 graduate of Volunteer State Community College with an A.S. in Criminal Justice, and is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Tennessee State University. Monte also participates in criminal justice reform advocacy work independently, including activist shareholder actions against Corrections Corporation of America and as the co-administrator of a large social media group. She supports HRDC’s Nashville office and has a particular interest in wrongful convictions.
Special Projects Coordinator: Panagioti Tsolkas
Panagioti Tsolkas joined the Human Rights Defense Center in November 2014, coordinating community outreach efforts and volunteer involvement. He also directs HRDC's Stop Prison Profiteering campaign, aimed at addressing prison services that financially exploit prisoners and their famlies, as well as HRDC's Prison Ecology Project, which maps the connections between mass incarceration and environmental degredation. Prior to working at HRDC, Panagioti was an editor for the Earth First! Journal. He also served as chairperson for the City of Lake Worth's Community Relations Board (tasked primarily with oversight of police conduct), as co-chair of the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition and as an Executive Committee member of the Sierra Club's Loxahatchee Group.
Communications Director: Jenny Wright
Jenny Wright spent the past 15 years working on various research and organizational development projects in the non-profit as well as public and private sectors. She graduated with distinction from Mid Sweden University in 2011 with a BA degree in Political Science, and graduated with honors the following year from the University of Leicester with a MS degree is Risk Management and a concentration in Organizational Development.
After two decades abroad and residing in five foreign countries, Jenny moved back to the U.S. in 2012 to work for an international private investigation firm. She spent the last three years employed as a Research Specialist, and later Vice President of Research, for a Florida-based finance company before joining the Human Rights Defense Center in January 2016. As the organization’s Communications Director, she is responsible for maintaining the websites, external correspondence, research, outreach and fundraising.
Advertising Coordinator/Office Manager: Judith Cohen
After graduating with a BA in English and secondary education, Judith joined the staff at MacMillan Publishing, writing the first dictionary aimed specifically at the high school level. She then moved to the editorial department at Booz, Allen, Hamilton management consultants, where she prepared top-security government reports for publication. Judith also worked at a New York law firm and spent many years in fund raising, and later in the IT field, before joining HRDC as the organization's Office Manager in June 2013.
Customer Service Assistant: Frances Sauceda
Frances Sauceda joined the Human Rights Defense Center in 2013 as an Office Assistant. She was born and raised in Lake Worth, Florida and her prior employment positions included researcher/supervisor at Bankrate.com and office manager for American Life & Health Group.
Office Assistant: Robert Pew
Robert Pew joined the Human Rights Defense Center in June 2015 as an office assistant. Robert was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and resided much of his adult years in North Charleston, South Carolina, where he worked in retail/customer service and later joined the U.S. Army as a (92F) Petroleum Supply Specialist. He's currently attending Florida Career College pursuing an Associate's Degree in Information Technology.