Prison authorities in Florida keep trying to stop inmates there from reading the Militant, “forgetting” to inform the paper, effectively denying it the right to challenge the censorship in defiance of their own rules.
In the latest of a series of impoundments over the last month, authorities at the Madison Correctional Institution withheld the May 28 issue, objecting to an article entitled “Gov’t Backs Off Moves to Bar Books to Prisoners.” Officials at the Tomoka Correctional Institution barred the June 18 issue, which features special coverage on what workers in Puerto Rico face nine months into the social catastrophe caused by Hurricane Maria and U.S. colonial rule over the island.
“We have appealed every attempt to censor the Militant, and won most of them, and will continue to appeal every one to come,” Militant editor John Studer said July 2. “We oppose any and all attempts to close down space for working people and others to exchange views, debate and discuss politics, outside or inside prison walls.”
Tomoka authorities never informed the Militant of their decision to seize the June 18 issue. The Militant found out about it from the Literature Review Committee while appealing the impoundment at Madison. Tomoka’s warden didn’t give any specific article as the reason, referring to the entire paper. “PGS 1-9 Showed organized protests around the state and seeks to organize inmates to strike,” said the impoundment notice, and “otherwise presents a threat to the security, good order, or discipline of the correctional system or the safety of any person.” But the issue only had eight pages, and nothing about strikes or prisons in Florida of any kind.
Tomoka authorities had earlier impounded the May 14 issue, which contained extensive coverage of the wave of teachers’ walkouts across the country. The reason given for that impoundment was exactly the same as the new one. And the May 14 censorship was overturned by the Literature Review Committee before the Militant found out it had happened from a letter from a subscriber there.
Tomoka’s claims raise “a serious question of whether the censoring officials even reviewed the issue, and further strongly suggests that the censorship was based on hostility to the Militant’s political viewpoint,” wrote the Militant’s lawyer, David Goldstein, in his July 2 appeal of the new impoundment.
Goldstein, from the constitutional rights law firm Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky and Lieberman, notes that Tomoka never informed the Militant of either impoundment, which is required by Florida law. The fact that no notice has been given, he said, “makes us concerned that this has happened on additional occasions, leading to unreported censorship with no chance of reply.”
Madison prison authorities said they impounded the issue that reported on a victory over moves by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to arbitrarily impose draconian limits on books prisoners could buy, falsely claiming it was reporting on “contraband entering a prison” and because it was a “threat to the security, good order or discipline of the correctional system or the safety of any person.”
The Militant is mailed to approximately 115 subscribers in some 60 prisons across the country, 34 of them incarcerated in 17 prisons in Florida. Florida prisons have attempted to censor well over a dozen issues over the past year. The Militant has challenged each one, with support from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Lawyers Guild, Amnesty International, PEN America and prisoner rights, church and other organizations. The Literature Review Committee has reversed the large majority of them.
“The Militant believes workers behind bars are as much a part of the working class and its debates and struggles as any other workers. They need information about what we face to participate on an equal basis,” Studer said. “We have no intention of altering our content or political viewpoint to avoid unconstitutional censorship. And we’ll fight every attempt to keep us out.”