Working with the Florida ACLU, the Militant won an appeal Oct. 11 against the impoundment of one of its issues that reported on the hunger strike of prisoners in California by the Santa Rosa Correctional Institution. That effectively banned the issue for all Florida state inmates.
A number of defenders of freedom of the press and publications that speak out for prisoners’ rights backed the Militant’s fight, including the San Francisco Bay Voice, the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press and supporters of the hunger strikers in California.
“Prison Legal News has faced censorship since it put out its first edition in 1990,” Paul Wright, who was incarcerated in 1987 and began putting out the newsletter from prison in Washington state, told the Militant in an Oct. 30 interview. “If anything, it has intensified since then.
“When I first went into prison in Washington, the list of reasons for denying material to prisoners was eight pages,” he said. “Today it’s 35 pages long.”
The newsletter currently has 7,000 subscribers. “More prisoners are interested today. At the same time, when Florida decided that we were banned, we lost 300 readers.”
“Everything that is critical of the status quo is likely to be targeted,” Wright said. “But lots of generic mail gets censored as well. In a number of states we are kept out because institutions are adopting blanket policies that everything except postcards are barred.
“We’ve been very successful challenging censorship, but we don’t have the resources to meet every move,” he said.
“What the Militant faced in Florida is part of the effort of the authorities to contract political space for everyone,” said Wright.
The Militant is currently pressing to get prison authorities to deliver the paper to an inmate in Florida who wrote that he hadn’t received it for six weeks and another prisoner in Washington state who wrote to say prison officials came to his cell and removed issues that had coverage of the California hunger strike.
Prison censorship widespread“Sadly, it seems things haven’t gotten any better as far as this prison giving us [the San Francisco Bay View],” Richard Garcia, who is imprisoned at Pelican Bay State Prison in California, wrote in a letter printed in the Sept. 12 issue of that paper. “I never did receive your April or May issue. On Aug. 1, they gave me your June and July issues and explained they were held pending investigation. But now they’re also holding your August issue.”
The Bay View has published statements by leaders of the hunger strike, as well as letters and articles by inmates describing prison conditions. “Fighting censorship in prisons is fighting for the human rights and dignity of captives whose very humanity is regularly denied by their ‘keepers,’” Dr. Willie Ratcliff, publisher of the Bay View, wrote in the same issue.
Garcia, one of the 30,000 who went on hunger strike, wrote that he was also denied Prison Focus and other publications.
Prison Focus, based in Oakland, Calif., is a publication for and on behalf of prisoners edited by Ed Mead, a former prisoner in Washington state.
“It is only the existence of an active movement for change that will ensure enforcement of the rights of prisoners,” Mead wrote in the summer 2013 issue, “not the mere promises of prisoncrats nor the mood of the courts.”