by George Rahsaan Brooks-Bey
Open letter to prison administration:
At the outset, it must be clearly understood that barring an issue of the Bay View severely burdens the First Amendment rights of innocent third parties by a racist and prejudiced committee whose intent is to bar a Black newspaper from communicating with Black prisoners. The Inmate Publication Review Committee will find or manufacture a reason to keep Black prisoners from reading it, which violates the Bay View’s freedom of speech and my freedom of the press, under Article 1, Section 7, of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that restrictions on prisoners’ communications implicates First Amendment rights of free persons who desire to communicate with prisoners: “Whatever are the status of a prisoner’s claim to uncensored correspondence with an outsider, it is plain the latter’s interest is grounded in the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.” Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 408-09 (1974) (overruled on other grounds); Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401 (1989).
The First and 14th Amendment rights of the publisher are inextricably meshed with the rights of those that they wish to communicate with. Procunier, 416 U.S. at 408-09: “When a prison regulation or practice offends a fundamental guarantee, federal courts will discharge their duty to protect constitutional rights.” Id. at 505-06.
Publishers therefore have a constitutional right to distribute their publication to prisoners, and they have standing to challenge a prison’s action to cancel such distribution and retention by the subscriber. And if you uphold this arbitrary, racist and blatant decision, litigation will surely follow.
The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that restrictions on prisoners’ communications implicates First Amendment rights of free persons who desire to communicate with prisoners.
So take notice that courts have repeatedly recognized the important First and 14th Amendment rights of publishers to communicate with inmates, and the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Courts have repeatedly struck down regulations prohibiting or limiting distribution of publications to prisoners as being unconstitutional.
Under federal court precedent, the broad application used under DC-ADM 803 (Inmate Mail and Incoming Publications Procedures Manual) to bar my Bay View is both racist and exaggerated, and said barring effectively burdened both my rights and the Bay View’s rights to communicate and receive communications. Your action will not pass the stringent constitutional inquiry dictated by federal court rulings.
“When a prison regulation or practice offends a fundamental guarantee, federal courts will discharge their duty to protect constitutional rights.”
The all white committee members’ review of material by Black authors and publishers are so broad that it bars books by noted and respected Black historians. There is no definition for what is considered to instigate violent insurrection, guerrilla warfare or racial inflammation; and without a written definition in the DC-ADM 803 policy, those words are constantly misused and abused – as you will clearly see when you review page 8 of the March 2015 Bay View [the page cited as the reason the paper was barred – ed.]!
“It is a basic principle of due process that a regulation is void for vagueness if its prohibitions are not clearly defined.” Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108-09 (1972). First, a policy is unconstitutional for vagueness if it does not “give the person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited so that they may act accordingly.” Second, a policy must not be so vague as to avoid “arbitrary and discriminatory application.” Third, vague policies are unconstitutional, for they potentially prohibit permissible acts and have a chilling effect on “lawful” conduct.
“Prison walls do not form a barrier separating prison inmates from the protection of the Constitution.” Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 528 (2006). The Bay View’s prisoner readership consists of prisoners who have specifically asked to receive it and is subject to the full constitutional protections that the courts have found apply to papers like the Bay View. For all of these reasons, the decision of prison officials should be vacated, and I should be permitted to retain and read my Bay View, which I’m entitled to.
Appeal from Superintendent Tritt’s decision
Superintendent Tritt [Superintendent Brenda Tritt is the warden of SCI Frackville, where this censorship occurred – ed.] is starting out in bad faith with willful fabrication. Her decision is dated April 1, 2015, yet the postmark on the envelope is April 9, 2015. I was not transferred from SCI-Frackville until April 6, 2015. So, if the date of her opinion is April 1, 2015, she willfully sent it to me in hopes of time barring me.
The Bay View, founded in 1976, is a source of news and information for the Black community worldwide. The print edition for the Bay View is mailed to subscribers across the country. Its editors and reporters have won numerous awards for news reporting, including awards for Excellence in Journalism and Freedom of Information from the Society of Professional Journalists (1996 and 2002, respectively); three Best of the Bay awards from the Bay Guardian (1998, 2003 and 2009); National Black Newspaper of the Year from the National Black Chamber of Commerce (1997) and Best Black News from the Media Alliance (2001).
The Bay View provides thought provoking stories and commentary, with a particular focus on the Black community. As with many community newspapers, news stories and commentary range from coverage of how the economy affects Blacks and the poor, politics, cultural events, current events, history, health and religion.
The Bay View is a source of news and information for the Black community worldwide. The print edition for the Bay View is mailed to subscribers across the country. Its editors and reporters have won numerous awards for news reporting.
In addition, the Bay View provides in depth coverage of the penal system. Featured articles in this section might include the release of wrongfully convicted prisoners, women prisoners being raped by male guards, prisoners being beaten or abused by guards, prisoners being denied adequate medical care, prisoners being denied the right to practice their religious beliefs, prisoners being retaliated against for their involvement in First Amendment protected activity, prisoners having their property stolen or destroyed by guards, commentary on the conditions of solitary confinement or Black people being targeted and killed by racist police.
The Bay View provides in depth coverage of the penal system.
Stories in the Bay View are written by reporters both from within and outside of the penal system and it is all of the above which causes the all white Frackville Inmate Publication Review Committee (IPRC) to become infuriated and abuse their authority because these types of articles do not mesh with their distorted history of this country and their personal opinions, which are grounded in prejudice, white supremacy and racism.
This should be evident now by the prior five appeals I have prevailed on by showing with clear and convincing evidence that Frackville’s all white IPRC will blatantly lie and willfully exaggerate when denying publications that do not advocate criminal activity, that are not racially inflammatory, and do not threaten inmates, the prison nor the prison staff. If not for Ms. Theresa Shoatz, who was kind enough to send me pages out of the MOVEMENT Magazine, a Human Rights Coalition publication, these nefarious people who sit on the IPRC would have gotten away with violating the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech of both me and the publishers of the MOVEMENT.
And I will “bet my life” that when you review page 8 of the March 2015 edition of the award winning Bay View, you will find absolutely nothing on that page that advocates violence, insurrection or guerrilla warfare against the government or any of its facilities or creates a danger within the content of the correctional facility. Page 8 also has no “racially inflammatory material” that could cause a threat to the inmates, staff or facility security!
This is the same committee of people who rejected the book “One Hundred Years of Lynching” as being “racially inflammatory.” It’s clear that the IPRC’s ignorance prevents them from distinguishing Black history from what is racially inflammatory.
It’s clear that the IPRC’s ignorance prevents them from distinguishing Black history from what is racially inflammatory.
Send our brother some love and light: George Rahsaan Brooks-Bey, AP-4884, 1 Kelley Drive, Coal Township, PA 17866-1021. Rahsaan won his appeal and the release of his March Bay View. With his letter, he enclosed the “Final Appeal Decision,” dated April 30, 2015, and marked “Grant Inmate Appeal.” Now he is working to get his April and May Bay Views released. The Bay View thanks and congratulates this outstanding jailhouse lawyer and encourages others who encounter censorship to follow his lead.