Episode: Arizona lawsuit says prisons denied and censored inmates' access to news


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Arizona lawsuit says prisons denied and censored inmates' access to news
The Arizona department of corrections (ADC) faces a lawsuit in federal court from a prison news publisher that accuses the state agency of censorship and violating inmates’ rights. The Human Rights Defense Center filed suit against the department in Phoenix district court on Tuesday, alleging that prison officials refused to give inmates certain issues of Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly publication, because of articles about sexual abuse by prison employees. Officials refused to deliver the journal when issues contained articles describing sexual abuse of inmates by prison employees, the suit claims, including stories such as New York Jail Guard Sentenced for Sexually Abusing Seven Prisoners and Kitchen Supervisor Gets Prison Time for Sexually Abusing Two Prisoners. The corrections department eventually delivered some issues with blacked-out sections. spokesman Andrew Wilder told the Associated Press that the “handful” of blacked-out sentences were consistent with department policy and “prudent”. Officials have wide discretion to prohibit materials, although federal regulations instruct wardens only to reject publications found “to be detrimental to the security, good order, or discipline of the institution or if it might facilitate criminal activity”. That rule is generally interpreted as referring to guides to anything that might threaten safety or facilitate crime: manuals for making bombs or weapons, instructions for brewing drugs, maps of the prison, etc. Many prisons also have rules regarding sexual content, and Arizona officials determined the articles violated prison rules on sexual content and inciting riots, the suit claims. State officials around the country have used broad censorship powers to set a number of idiosyncratic restrictions on what inmates can read. In 2011, Alabama banned a Pulitzer prize-winning book on southern history and Connecticut banned pornography, and until 2012, a South Carolina jail banned all books save the Bible. Last year, the UN received a report that accused US prisons of “widespread censorship”. The report by two free-speech groups said that Texas, in particular, violates prisoners’ rights, with nearly 12,000 works banned, including some by George Orwell (“racial content”), Gustave Flaubert and William Shakespeare (“sexual content” both). Texas also bans Arrival of the Gods: Revealing the Alien Landing Sites at Nazca, citing “homosexuality”. Ells said that based on materials received by the ACLU, the Arizona agency appears to also have censored certain issues of National Geographic, Newsweek and the Economist. “It would appear that it’s quite a large problem that’s affecting both the prisoners and many large publishers.”

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