Yesterday a regular Prison
Law Blog reader, who is preparing to self-report to a Federal Prison Camp,
brought a question to our attention. He
asked, “Once I self-surrender, can I blog from prison?” As regular readers of the Prison Law Blog
know, we love tackling First Amendment in the correctional context issues. We provide some answers on blogging from
The Question: Can I
Blog From Prison?
Federal prisoners, and those in state custody for that
matter, have a right to the exercise of their First Amendment privileges.
In the prison context, this means creatively writing and seeking
publication for those creative writings.
These creative writings could be letters, articles, blog posts, books,
reports, studies, or even drawings.*1 Yes,
even political cartoons are protected by the First Amendment.
The most common question concerns writing in the electronic
realm. This is a grayer area, but a
solid one from the case law perspective.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ “Manuscript” program statement
clearly states that prisoners are allowed to write for publication and they can
mail out their manuscripts as general correspondence, without staff approval or
authorization. This is in line with the
BOP’s “Correspondence” program statement. These program statements, though, don’t
specifically authorize federal prisoners
to write for electronic publication.
After all, the “Manuscript” program statement was promulgated
in the 1990s, back when the internet wasn’t commonplace in homes and really
wasn’t heard of on cell phones.
Regardless of the lack of specific and direct authorization to write for
the online marketplace, the Prison Law
Blog asserts — as case law and other experts in the field support — that
prisoners have a right to write for online publication, either on a personal
blog or at larger media or creative writing outlets (e.g., the Huffington Post, Slate.com, Salon.com, ANDmagazine.com etc.).
Restrictions on Content
In terms of the writing itself, the only real area to be
mindful of is the content. Prisoners
most certainly can voice their objections to or feelings about anything. They can also voice their political, personal,
and other sorts of opinions. But what
they can’t do is violate existing laws through their writings or, more specific
to the prison context, write anything which would hinder the “good order,
security, or operations of the institution.”