With numerous restrictions imposed on inmates already, California prison authorities are beginning to move to tighten censorship of books, newspapers, photos, and letters in response to the first anniversary of the widespread hunger strike within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), which brought substantial negative media attention to the agency.

“These new proposed regulations are designed to serve one purpose and that is to censor any writings, mailings, and publications that educate the public to what is actually occurring in these prisons,” says Mutope Duguma, a prisoner incarcerated in Pelican Bay.  These proposed regulations will define any written materials or photographs indicating an association with any member of a “Security Threat Group,” including prison gangs or any group that authorities designate as a threat, as contraband.

Letters and articles written by prisoners are what inform the public of actual conditions of confinement, providing access to places that reporters cannot go.  One view of the proposed regulations marks them as an attempt to extinguish prisoners’ First Amendment rights, especially in the light of prison administrators’ regular denial of media visits and interviews.

According to Joe Stein, chief of the CDCR’s Standardized Procedures Unit (which promulgated these new regulations), some 200 publications are currently banned in the system and any inmate can be punished for possession of a banned book or magazine.  In fact, in a United States Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, the Warden confiscated all copies of the July 2013 issue of the San Francisco Bay newspaper on the basis that it discussed individuals incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

“It is crucial that prisoners have the right to study, read, write, and communicate with others on the outside,” said Betsey Stone, a correspondent for The Militant, who broke this story.

To learn more about the CDCR’s efforts at prison censorship and to read the commentary by The Militant’s editor Mary Ratcliff, read their story “Calif. prison authorities move to tighten censorship behind bars.”

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation uses public money to censor the First Amendment rights of prisoners.  The purpose of this censorship is to hide what is occurring behind bars:  Security Housing Units; extended periods of solitary confinement; psychological abuse of prisoners.  So-called “boots on the ground” journalism is being restricted and even prohibited in California’s prisons.  In a sub-culture that is effectively shut off from society, the loss of the ability to communicate by means of the written word is a travesty.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

2 Comments

  1. Dianne Frazee-Walker on August 7, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    This type of humane rights denial reminds me of underdeveloped countries. The U.S. should be setting an example for other countries. Instead this country still has a way to go before catching-up with other countries where prison rehabilitation is working.



  2. Jake J. on August 12, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    I guess I don’t even remotely get the logic here. What do they think that will accomplish? Anything they do will still come out, and the censorship in the process will simply ensure that they are held MORE accountable when it does. If they were more open with what happens behind bars, then they would watch what they do and probably have fewer problems.



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