The Militant’s victory is part of the broader fight against censorship. A victory over book banning was won Sept. 25 when the Randolph County, N.C., school board was forced by a public outcry to rescind a nine-day-old ban on Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man from school libraries.
The paper has been contacted by two more workers behind bars who had issues of the Militant reporting on the hunger strike confiscated or rejected, one in Washington state and another in a different Florida prison.
“Other publications, such as the New York Times, Miami Herald and USA Today, had covered the California hunger strikes,” the Reporters Committee said. The article reprinted the committee’s statement in support of the Militant’s appeal, which read, in part: “Journalists have not only a right but an obligation to report on matters of public concern and political significance. Recent articles by the Militant and other news outlets about a hunger strike and conditions in California prisons exemplify this duty.”
The San Francisco Bay View, an African-American newspaper that reports widely on prisoner issues, also released a statement in support of the Militant’s fight, as did a number of activists who have joined protests in California to back the hunger strikers’ protest against solitary confinement.
The number of workers thrown into prisons and jails has exploded. Government statistics show some 2.3 million incarcerated in the U.S. — a jump of 274 percent over the last 25 years.
The plea-bargain system has largely replaced trial by a jury of your peers. Some 95 percent of those behind bars were pressured into copping a plea under threat of more draconian sentences.
This explosion has been accompanied by increasing prison censorship of inmates’ mail, newspaper subscriptions and book orders. In an article titled “Prison Books Ban: The Censorship Scandal Inside,” the Huffington Post reports on how prison officials “deprive prisoners of access to thousands of books, magazines and newspapers.”
Prison Legal News began as a 10-page hand-typed newsletter for 75 subscribers produced by two inmates in different Washington state prisons, Paul Wright and Ed Mead. Wright, who remains the editor, served 25 years on trumped-up charges of murder. He won parole in 2003.
The newsletter now has 7,000 subscribers, overwhelmingly inmates, and estimates that it gets into the hands of more than 10 times that number from being handed around from inmate to inmate, much like the Militant.
Prison Legal News has faced censorship beginning with its first issue. It currently faces a blanket ban in 10 state prison systems.
Prisoner newsletter bannedThe newsletter had been banned in South Carolina when that state barred all publications from inmates other than the bible. Jails in Sacramento County, Calif., barred it, saying the staples it was bound with were potential weapons.
“I think this fits within the overall crackdown by police and jails around the country,” Wright told the Sacramento Daily Journal in 2012. “They seem intent on crushing the right to free speech.”
Wright also says that Prison Legal News has to take on the fight against censorship itself, because the big-business press won’t do it. “They tell us they are not part of their targeted advertising demographic,” Wright said.
Material censored around the country varies. Texas maintains a list of some 12,000 books that are banned. An increasing number of jails bar everything except postcards. Other institutions target political news and reports of protests of prisoners against solitary confinement and other abuses, like the impoundment of the Militant in Florida and Washington.
The fall 2013 issue of The Movement, the newsletter of the Human Rights Coalition for the Union of Prisoners’ Families, published in Philadelphia, is devoted to “Prison Censorship.”
“We’re proud that our subscription base among workers behind bars is growing today,” the Militant’s editor Doug Nelson said. “We will continue to fight efforts to deny prisoners the right to read the Militant and whatever else they want. And we will join with anyone else who does likewise.”
“This is part of the battle for inmates to connect with life outside prison and for working people on both sides of the prison walls to recognize and connect with each others’ struggles. It’s a question of the morale and dignity of the working class.”