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Vol. 81/No. 20      May 22, 2017

(feature article)

Fight grows against Illinois prison censorship of ‘Militant’

CHICAGO — The six-month-long fight against censorship of the Militant at the 2,000-inmate Illinois River Correctional Center in Canton is winning new support. Prison authorities there denied a long-term subscriber three issues of the socialist newsweekly last fall.

Prison authorities claimed that each of the issues — which contain articles reporting on the Militant’s fight against censorship at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York — is “detrimental to security, good order, rehabilitation, or discipline or it might facilitate criminal activity or be detrimental to mental health.”

David Goldstein, the Militant’s attorney, filed a Feb. 16 appeal, calling for reversal of the censorship. Despite numerous inquiries, nothing further has been heard from Illinois prison authorities. Goldstein is with the prominent New York civil liberties firm Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman.

“As a clinical law professor whose work focuses on the First Amendment rights of prisoners, I write in opposition to the decision to censor the October 31, 2016, November 28, 2016, and December 12, 2016 Issues of the Militant at Illinois River Correctional Center,” David M. Shapiro, clinical assistant professor of law at the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, wrote to prison authorities. Shapiro is also director of appellate litigation of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center. Prior to joining the faculty at Northwestern, he was a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project.

“I have reviewed the articles that were identified as the basis of the censorship. It is clear that none of them satisfy the standard for censorship of publications established by the Supreme Court,” Shapiro said. “There is simply nothing here that would pose a risk to the good order of a prison in any way.”

David Schweickart, professor of philosophy at Loyola University and author of several books on “Economic Democracy,” wrote protesting the ban on the Militant’s coverage of its fight against Attica’s censorship “concerning the much-publicized rebellion at that prison forty-five years ago.”

“I urge you to allow access to those back issues, and all subsequent issues, unless, of course, they can be shown to somehow constitute a serious threat to prison security, which “the currently-censored issues surely do not,” he said.

The prison system in Illinois is well known for its brutal and inhumane treatment of workers behind bars. But prisoners here recently won a small victory in court. The ACLU of Illinois announced May 1 that federal Judge Jorge Alonso had ruled that a legal challenge to another aspect of the brutality routinely meted out to workers behind bars — woefully inadequate health care that results in needless suffering and hundreds of untimely deaths — could move forward as a class action.

No ‘legitimate interest’
Among those adding their voice in support of inmates’ right to read the Militant is noted civil rights attorney Flint Taylor. Taylor and his colleagues helped lead the legal and political effort to hold the Chicago Police Department, Cook County State’s Attorney and FBI accountable for the 1969 shooting death of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton. He and his associates also played a central role in bringing Chicago police torturer Jon Burge to justice and winning release of — and compensation for — the survivors of Burge’s gang.

“I write as a long-time civil rights lawyer who has, with my law partners at the People’s Law Office, litigated many significant prisoner rights cases for the past five decades,” said Taylor. “My law partners and I strongly oppose the IDOC’s [Illinois Department of Corrections] decision to censor the October 31, 2016, November 28, 2016, and December 12, 2016 Issues of The Militant newspaper at your prison and urge the IDOC to end its censorship of these issues.

“It is clear that the censored articles, as a matter of established First Amendment law, do not meet the standard for censorship of publications established by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Taylor wrote. “There is no legitimate penological interest in denying access to these, or any other, issue of The Militant.”

Michelle Howard, former staff member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and wife of Burge torture survivor Stanley Howard — who is still fighting for his release from prison — also wrote to support the Militant’s effort to end censorship at the prison.

“I am deeply troubled by your decision to deny subscribers to The Militant at The Illinois River Correctional Center copies of the periodical,” wrote Howard. “I urge you in the strongest possible terms to reverse your decision to censor this publication.”

To send a statement of support or make a financial contribution to the Militant’s fight against censorship, contact or write the paper at 306 W. 37th St., 13th floor, New York, NY 10018.  
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