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Fight new prison censorship rules proposed by CDCr

June 4, 2014

by Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

 

These drawings show prisoners’ abhorrence of censorship and the importance of publications like the Bay View. – Art: David Mendoza, V-03186, PBSP SHU D7-120, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

These drawings show prisoners’ abhorrence of censorship and the importance of publications like the Bay View. – Art: David Mendoza, V-03186, PBSP SHU D7-120, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

We need your help. Under the guise of “obscenity” regulations, CDCr has proposed sweeping new political censorship rules for mail going both into and out of the prisons. If these changes are approved, CDCr will permanently ban any documents it defines as “contraband,” including political publications and correspondence that should be protected by First Amendment constitutional rights.

The proposed regulations are designed with two main purposes: to censor writings that educate the public about what is actually occurring inside the prisons, and to stifle the intellectual and political education and organizing of prisoners themselves.

1.) Please weigh in and speak out against these regulations. The public comment period is open until 5 p.m. on June 17. Resources to help craft a letter are provided at the action page and below this alert.

2.) Spread the word on Facebook and ask your friends, family, neighbors, pastor, school class, place of worship, and organizations to write also.

If you are interested in getting involved in this battle in other ways, please email prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com.

In solidarity,

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

Fact sheet for CDCR proposed censorship regulation changes

CDCr states that the purpose of these censorship rules is to forbid “publications that indicate an association with groups that are oppositional to authority and society.” This ominous language reveals the political underpinnings of the proposed changes. Prison officials are attempting to increase the political, mental and emotional isolation of people in solitary confinement struggling to resist an already crushing physical isolation.

CDCr states that the purpose of these censorship rules is to forbid “publications that indicate an association with groups that are oppositional to authority and society.” Prison officials are attempting to increase the political, mental and emotional isolation of people in solitary confinement struggling to resist an already crushing physical isolation. 

What are activists inside CDCr SHU torture units saying?

  • “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.”
  • “This is an attempt to silence prisoners and publishers whose voices have been prominent in waging struggle against prisoners’ perpetual suffering. CDCR wants to stifle prisoners’ truths and disconnect them from society at large.”
  • “They want to be free to pursue the maintenance of the SHU torture units and the expansion of the prison industrial complex (and the ever-growing portion of the public’s tax dollars) without the prospect of legitimate criticism and the voice of opposition.”
  • “They seek to not only halt all criticism, but also the education and political development of underclass segments of their population – particularly those who are imprisoned … They seek to control all we read, see, learn or think.”
  • “Allowing CDCr to censor the content of our mail would violate not only the First Amendment but also CCR Title 15, Section 3135(b): ‘Disagreement with the sender’s or receiver’s morals, values, attitudes, veracity or choice of words will not be cause for correctional staff to disallow mail. Correctional staff shall not challenge or confront the sender or receiver with such value judgments.’”

“They seek to not only halt all criticism, but also the education and political development of underclass segments of their population – particularly those who are imprisoned … They seek to control all we read, see, learn or think.”

What will the proposed changes do?

  • Expand the definition of contraband: Section 3006(c)(19) expands the definition of contraband to include “written materials or photographs that indicate an association with validated Security Threat Group (STG) members or associates.” Possession of contraband is a disciplinary violation resulting in specific punishments. Also it can contribute to a prisoner being validated as a member or associate of an “STG” (a broader version of “gang validation”) which can result in placement in solitary confinement.
  • Lengthy confiscation of political mail: Section 3134.1(d) as amended would result in mail delays for months, or outright denials, of any mail CDCr wants to ban. This is a blatant attempt to destroy timeliness of newspapers and personal correspondence, thus making them irrelevant. Even temporary “disallowance” can severely threaten First Amendment rights. In 2013, every month’s issue of the SF Bay View from January to June except February’s was “disallowed” at Pelican Bay State Prison and withheld until well after the hunger strike began on July 8. Those issues were packed with letters from prisoners explaining and discussing the reasons for the upcoming strike.
  • Further criminalize culture and political dialogue: Section 3134.1(e) describes the nature of prohibited publications to include “STG recruitment material.” CDCr views political and historical writings and materials relating to cultural identity as “STG recruitment material.”
  • Criminalize correspondence the prison does not agree with: Section 3135(c)(14) adds “written materials or photographs going into or out of the prison that indicate an association with validated STG members or associates” to a list of “Disturbing or Offensive Correspondence” which may be prohibited. This language threatens “STG validation” against anyone in possession of such materials.
“Knowledge” – Art: Roger “Rab” Moore, G-02296, HDSP SHU Z-123, P.O. Box 3030, Susanville CA 96127

“Knowledge” – Art: Roger “Rab” Moore, G-02296, HDSP SHU Z-123, P.O. Box 3030, Susanville CA 96127

Materials from organizations or individuals opposed to solitary confinement would almost certainly be considered “oppositional to authority” and thereby subject to banning. Materials from family members or other outside supporters innocently depicting persons deemed STG suspects could be targeted.

How could this affect prisoners?

  • Under current state law, media may not conduct face to face interviews with prisoners unless approved by the prison. During approved tours, reporters are only permitted to speak with prisoners handpicked by officials. Prisoners are not allowed to send confidential mail to journalists about prison abuses; with these regulations, their outgoing mail can be banned altogether.
  • If political publications are banned, prisoners will be cut off from nonviolent organizing efforts to improve their situation. In California, where writing from one SHU prisoner to another is punished, publications enable a prisoner suffering in silence and isolation to know he or she is not alone.

If political publications are banned, prisoners will be cut off from nonviolent organizing efforts to improve their situation. Publications enable a prisoner suffering in silence and isolation to know he or she is not alone.

How could this affect family members, activists and attorneys?

  • The new, pending Security Threat Group regulations expand the net of who can be labeled as STG members or associates to include family members, activists and other outside supporters. These so-called “obscenity” regulations could expand the sheer number of items deemed contraband and create exponential ways family members (and others in correspondence with prisoners) can be deemed affiliates of STGs. This could result in mail and visiting privileges being revoked.
  • These proposed regulations would also give the CDCr even more power to alienate people in solitary confinement from supportive relationships with loved ones by deeming innocent communications as “contraband” and “disallowing” them.

How could this affect newspapers and other publications?

  • Any publications reporting on solitary confinement with a critical lens could be subject to political censorship and banned, ranging from publications like PHSS News, Rock, Prison Focus, SF Bay View, Abolitionist, Prison Legal News, Turning The Tide, Final Call to the New York Times, Mother Jones and The Nation. What’s “oppositional to authority” is, of course, in the mind of the censor.
  • Prison-oriented publications that are banned may not survive.

Other resources

  • CDCR Source Materials for “Obscenity” regulations:

Section(s): 3006, 3134.1 and 3135

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS) is a coalition based in the Bay Area made up of grassroots organizations and community members committed to amplifying the voices of and supporting the prisoners at Pelican Bay and other California prisons as they strive to win their hunger strike demands. Email prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com and visit http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/.

 

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3 thoughts on “Fight new prison censorship rules proposed by CDCr

  1. James Bishop

    This is absolutely deplorable and a blatant abuse. The California Penal Code protects prisoners’ rights to obtain news items and mentions nothing regarding mail that is “oppositional to authority.”

    As a former inmate who has now turned my life around, I was invited to speak at the L.A. County Jail, and was denied access by the jail because I had a record (i.e. apparently, the last thing the county wants in the jail is felons!). So I’ve been personally censored, and now it is very likely that the letters of encouragement I send to lots of inmates every week could be censored as well.

    What’s that crashing sound? Oh, that’s the sound of our rights being thrown out the window. Once again.

    Reply
  2. ANGIE

    To CDCR this action you are trying to take is because we the community are now informed of the inhumane torture these inmates are being subjected to. These men are very knowledgeable and they have come together as one ending all racial in differences. Now that the community is aware of your actions you want to shut down all the publications. Well shame on you, this is a tactic you are using because you are trying to cover up what you’ve been doing all these years. I am here to tell you that you will not get away with this. These inmates are human beings who are doing a prison term. But not a single judge sentenced them to these inhumane conditions. CDC has taken it upon themselves to sentence these men to SOLITARY CONFINEMENT. You are not a judge nor are you a Jury and you are nobody to decide an indeterminate SHU sentence all because these individuals do not tell on each other. Hell, why don’t you sit your correctional officers down and have them tell on each other as to what they are doing. If they don’t tell you who is smuggling the cell phones, the drugs, giving up informants etc. Then lock them up in the SHU until they debrief and tell on their co-workers. Next, you have already implemented the STEP DOWN PROGRAM which is illegal but yet you still get away with it. Well it is time to Stop and start listening and do the right thing. This ban you are trying to implement is surely admitting that you are doing things illegally. If you don’t allow the publications you are cutting off us being aware of the torture you have inflicted on our loved ones. But it is to late we already know. I would hope that the Federal Govt put a confidential informant into the SHU as they did the LA County Jail so all of your torture and abuse of these inmates will be exposed by the Government. These men in the SHU have educated themselves and are just as educated if not more than your own people. They should be commended for their action to end all hostilities. They conduct themselves in a professional mannerism, and they show you courtesy and respect even though you don’t deserve any of it. The public publications will still spread the word on your wrong doings and we will take to the streets and protest these conditions you are trying to implement. Stop making up these your rules as you go along. Sincerely, Angie

    Reply

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