Florida prison board reverses decision to ban newspaper over hunger strike coverage

Latara Appleby | Prior Restraints | News | October 16, 2013

The Florida Department of Corrections overturned a decision on Friday that forbid inmates from receiving a socialist newspaper that contained an article about hunger strikes in a California prison.

The Santa Rosa Correctional Institution, in Milton, Fla., had informed the the Militant in September that it would not distribute its July 22 issue to the more than 30 prisoners in the state who subscribe to the paper. Prison officials argued that the article on hunger strikes "presents a threat to the security, good order, or discipline of the correctional system," the Militant reported.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida represented the newspaper in its appeal, and argued that the publication was written for everyone and did not urge inmates to take action. “Impoundment of The Militant violates the free speech rights of both The Militant and its subscribing inmates,” the ACLU of Florida wrote in the appeal, which it filed last month.

Other publications, such as The New York Times, Miami Herald and USA Today, had covered the California hunger strikes. The appeal asserted that there was no evidence that the Florida prison confiscated those publications, or that the more than 40 other penal facilities that have Militant subscribers withheld the issue in question.

The Florida Department of Corrections Literature Review Committee initially rejected the paper’s appeal in the beginning of the month, upholding the prison's decision that officials could impound the paper. But last week, according to Militant reporter John Studer, the ACLU of Florida received an email saying that the review board had met again, overturned its previous decision, and decided to let prisoners in the state receive the paper.

Prior to learning about its win, the Militant had heard from a prisoner in Washington who was originally allowed three issues of the publication but then later had them confiscated, Studer said in an interview.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press had issued a statement last week in support of the Militant's appeal. “Just as the First Amendment protects journalists' right to truthfully report on matters of public concern, it protects prisoners' rights to receive that information, so long as the material does not interfere with safety and security. The article in question, a routine report about important events in a California prison, appeared to pose no such threat,” the statement read.