PLN editor quoted re censorship by FL prison officials
Florida prisons’ censorship of ‘Militant’ violates free speech rights
In response to the impoundment of two recent issues of the Militant by authorities in at least two Florida state prisons, the Militant’s attorney David Goldstein filed an appeal July 7 requesting that the state Department of Corrections Literature Review Committee reverse these decisions and deliver the papers to the subscribers.
Goldstein is from the law firm of Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman, which is well-known for handling civil rights and liberties cases.
Prison officials claim the paper is “a threat to the security, good order, or discipline of the correctional system.” At issue, says the appeal, is “the First Amendment rights of The Militantand its subscribers, and the federal and state due process clauses.”
On June 15, authorities at Northwest Florida Reception Center denied a subscriber the May 30 issue with an article titled, “Prisoners Strike to Protest Abuse and Little or No Pay in Alabama,” a topic covered by many other news media.
At the end of June a subscriber at the state’s Santa Rosa Correctional Institute informed theMilitant that authorities there impounded that issue, as well as the one dated June 13. Prison authorities claimed that the page with an article and photo on a sizable peaceful public protest in Puerto Rico demanding U.S. authorities free Oscar López contained “hang/gang signs.” López has been incarcerated in the U.S. for 35 years for his support of independence for Puerto Rico. “There is no possible basis” to find the article and photo on López a threat to the “good order” of the prison, Goldstein wrote. And the charge of “hang/gang signs” he notes “has no possible basis in fact.”
The Militant has received no notice from Santa Rosa authorities of either impoundment, though prison regulations require them to do so.
In 2013 officials at Santa Rosa and other Florida prisons impounded issues of the Militant with articles covering a hunger strike by thousands of prisoners in California. But under pressure from a well-publicized challenge by the Militant represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, the prison’s Literature Review Committee reversed this ruling.
“The decision to impound this issue was also arbitrary and capricious,” the appeal says, “and inconsistent with the prior decision of the Committee that reporting on the California prison strikes cannot be a ground for banning The Militant. The decision is also unreasonable and arbitrary in that no other federal or state prison to The Militant’s knowledge has banned this issue or article.”
Benjamin Stevenson of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida wrote to the Florida Department of Corrections, July 12 about the recent impoundments. The Militant’s article about the Alabama prisoners strike “was written for a general audience and for wide distribution,” he noted , “and nowhere does the writer ‘encourage’ anyone to do anything, including inmates to engage in strikes. It simply reports a current events story.”
“Rejection of these issues violates the free speech rights of both the author and the inmate recipients. No penological reason justifies excluding prison inmates from reading about prisoners’ responses to their displeasure with conditions of confinement in other prisons. This issue is hardly novel and is of public interest and general conversation,” Stevenson added.
The Militant gets around in 63 prisons in the U.S., both state and federal, 21 of them in Florida. To date every attempt by authorities to prevent subscribers behind bars from receiving the paper has been defeated.
The recent impounding of the Militants “is another example of the Florida prison system using its armed state power to censor and try to silence news about prisoners’ struggle for justice,” Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, told the Militant. Prison Legal News magazine has also been involved in fights defending the rights of prisoners to receive it.