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Stop prison censorship! Submit comments by Nov. 10 on revised regulations misleadingly titled ‘Obscene Materials’

October 29, 2014

by Kim Rohrbach, Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity

The proposed censorship regulations that we collectively and vehemently opposed a few months ago have been revised, as of Oct. 20. The deadline for public comments is Nov. 10 – short notice.

Please submit your comments regarding the revisions as soon as possible! A sample letter is included below. The revisions can be viewed at: http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Regulations/Adult_Operations/docs/NCDR/2014NCR/14-05/15-Day%20Renotice%20Letter-Obscene%20Material.pdf

With its new proposed regulations, CDCr is tightening the censorship noose, not only at Pelican Bay but throughout its massive system. The new regs appear to be aimed at banning the Bay View, which CDCr blames for instigating the hunger strikes. – Art: Michael D. Russell, C-90473, PBSP D7-217, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

With its new proposed regulations, CDCr is tightening the censorship noose, not only at Pelican Bay but throughout its massive system. The new regs appear to be aimed at banning the Bay View, which CDCr blames for instigating the hunger strikes. – Art: Michael D. Russell, C-90473, PBSP D7-217, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

The CDCr specifies: Please submit comments to Timothy M. Lockwood, Chief, Regulation and Policy Management Branch, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, P.O. Box 942883, Sacramento, CA, 94283-0001; by fax to 916-324-6075; or by email at rpmb@cdcr.ca.gov before the close of the public comment period. Comments must be received or postmarked no later than 5:00 p.m. on Nov. 10, 2014.

We additionally recommend that those responding by e-mail cc staff@oal.ca.gov (the state Office of Administrative Law).

The revisions made since these proposed regulations first came out on March 25, 2014, appear to be non-substantive. Our comments supposedly will only be “heard” to the extent that they address the revisions, rather than the originally proposed text.

To the extent that the revisions incorporate language from the newly approved STG (Security Threat Group, the new name for gang) regulations that went into effect on Oct. 17, 2014, they need to be robustly resisted. The revisions specify, at 3006(c) and 3006(c)(19), that “[w]ritten materials or photographs that indicate an association with validated STG members or associates, as described in subsections 3378.2(b)(5)-(6)” are deemed contraband.

The proposed censorship regulations that we collectively and vehemently opposed a few months ago have been revised, as of Oct. 20. The deadline for public comments is Nov. 10 – short notice.

Well, 3378.2(b)(5)-(6), as adopted and enacted on Oct. 17, 2014 (along with all of the new STG regulations), describes – in vague terms open to subjective interpretation by prison staff – materials that may innocently be present in a person’s cell, such as:

  • “[a]ny material or documents evidencing STG activity such as the membership or enemy lists, roll call lists, constitutions, organizational structures, codes, training material, etc., of specific STGs or addresses, names, identities of validated STG affiliates.”
  • “[i]ndividual or group photographs with STG connotations such as those which include insignia, certified symbols, or other validated STG affiliates.”

In other words, under the revised regulations, any of the following may be considered contraband: an address for, or photo of, a loved one who happens to be deemed an STG affiliate; a photo or item that includes cultural iconography, e.g., a jaguar, a pyramid, an image of MLK or a copy of the San Francisco Bay View, as discussed below.

To the extent that the revisions incorporate language from the newly approved STG (Security Threat Group, the new name for gang) regulations that went into effect on Oct. 17, 2014, they need to be robustly resisted.

Moreover, the CDCr’s Oct. 20 revisions of 3134(d)-(e) do NOT reflect the community’s concerns regarding the originally proposed text – as recently expressed via hundreds of public comments – regarding the inclusion of publications (e.g., newspapers and the publications of rights organizations) in the list of items that may be considered “STG materials.”

Nor do the revisions reflect the community’s concerns over the prospective permanent banning of publications. The text of 3134(d)–(e), as originally proposed, is more or less unchanged, except to the extent that the term “STG recruitment materials” has been swapped out for the phrase “STG written materials or photographs, as described in 3378.2(b)(5)-(6).”

Some publications, like the Bay View, may and often do contain the self-disclosed names of and addresses for persons who are validated. Thus, they are subject to censorship under 3378.2(b)(5)-(6).

Sample letter

[DATE]

Dear Mr. Lockwood et al.,

I recently reviewed the Revisions to Text as Originally Proposed (Obscene Materials) issued October 20. To my dismay, the Department has failed to meaningfully take into consideration concerns previously expressed by hundreds of community members regarding the originally proposed text. This, despite the Department’s promise that it would go back to the drawing board, and its claim that the public had misunderstood its intent.

If the public misunderstood the Department’s intent, the minimally revised language around so-called obscene materials does not clarify what the Department’s intent is. For example, the text of 3134(d)–(e), as originally proposed, is not changed except to the extent that the term “STG recruitment materials” has been swapped out for the phrase “STG written materials or photographs, as described in 3378.2(b)(5)-(6).”

Moreover, “STG written materials or photographs, as described in 3378.2(b)(5)-(6)” comprises a category of materials that’s highly subjective to individual interpretation and whim on the part of staff. It apparently includes a host of innocent items that may be found in a person’s cell, including but not limited to:

– An address for, or photo of, a loved one or friend who happens to be deemed an STG affiliate

– An item that includes cultural iconography (e.g., a jaguar, a pyramid, an image of Martin Luther King)

– A copy of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper

The Department needs to go back to the drawing board again to ensure that (1) no person in custody will be penalized for possessing materials that in and of themselves have nothing to do with prohibited conduct or any rules violation; (2) no publication will be banned – permanently or temporarily – merely because a person in custody has chosen to publish his name and/or location in an editorial or news article, for example, or is seeking a pen pal.

Sincerely,

[NAME]

Kim Rohrbach volunteers with Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS), 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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