Victory! Indiana prison officials reverse ban on the ‘Militant’

By Brian Williams
December 7, 2020

A victory has been won in defense of the right of Militant subscriber Kevin “Rashid” Johnson to receive the paper at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Indiana.

Johnson, a leader of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party, had written the Militant Nov. 5 reporting that prison authorities had informed him a recent issue had been “disallowed due to safety and security of facility.”

He subsequently learned that it was issue no. 44, with a banner headline, “Vote Socialist Workers Party!” In violation of its own regulations, prison authorities didn’t say why the paper was impounded, what article they objected to, nor did they inform the Militant about the impoundment.

Militant attorney David Goldstein contacted Jon Ferguson, the Indiana Department of Correction chief legal officer, urging the ban be overturned, otherwise the paper will challenge the suppression.

“[P]ublishers such as the Militant have a First Amendment right to send publications to inmates, particularly to disseminate political views,” he said.

“Thank you again for forwarding this to my attention,” Ferguson wrote back Nov. 19, “Mr. Johnson will be receiving Vol. 84, No. 44 shortly.”

Johnson is a well-known political activist. He has been repeatedly transferred as authorities try to isolate and harass him. He was first incarcerated in Virginia in 1990, then sent to Oregon, Texas, Florida, back to Virginia, and now Indiana, where he was held at Pendleton Correctional Facility before being moved to Wabash Valley in September.

At the end of last year authorities at Pendleton impounded four issues of the Militant from Johnson. This was reversed after Goldstein filed a protest on behalf of the paper and several people sent letters urging this violation of prisoners’ right to free speech be overturned. Ferguson informed Goldstein that the impoundments at Pendleton “was determined to be in error. Staff have been retrained in the matter.” But it seems “retraining” had only gone so far, with Wabash Valley attempting to do the same thing after Johnson was transferred there.

Johnson reports that prison officials at Wabash Valley have also suppressed his subscriptions to the San Francisco Bay View and Socialist Viewpoint.

“For the second time we’ve succeeded in reversing attempts by prison authorities in Indiana to prevent Johnson from getting the Militant,” said John Studer, the paper’s editor. “These are victories and set an important precedent to be used by others. The Militant will continue to fight to reverse any ban of the paper on behalf of the growing number of Militant subscribers behind bars.

“Prisoners have the right to read the political materials they choose,” he said, “to think for themselves and form their own opinions over how to deal with today’s deepening economic and social crisis.”