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Punishment for prisoner's articles upheld

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Punishment for prisoner's articles upheld09/09/96 WISCONSIN--The Court of Appeals in Madison ruled in late August that prison officials did not…

Punishment for prisoner’s articles upheld

09/09/96

WISCONSIN–The Court of Appeals in Madison ruled in late August that prison officials did not violate the First Amendment by punishing an inmate for publishing articles criticizing prison authorities and conditions.

The case concerned two articles written by Adrian Lomax, an inmate at Wisconsin’s Racine Correctional Institution. The stories, published in a free, biweekly paper called The Madison Edge, criticized prison officials, calling one correctional officer “outrageously sadistic” and predicting that she “will one day be killed by a prisoner.” The newspaper was sent to about 60 prisoners at Wisconsin correctional institutions.

Prison officials punished Lomax for participating in publication and distribution of these articles, which they claimed violated rules prohibiting written disrespect for officials. For one article, Lomax was punished with eight days of “adjustment segregation” — solitary confinement — and 360 days of “program segregation.”

Lomax and The Madison Edge sued prison officials in a Madison circuit court arguing the prison had violated Lomax’s right to free speech and press under the First Amendment. Lomax claimed that his articles were the equivalent of outgoing mail, which is specifically exempted from the “disrespect” rule under which he was punished.

The three-judge panel of the appellate court upheld the trial court’s ruling that the prison acted reasonably in punishing Lomax. Although imprisonment does not mean prisoners lose their right to free speech, the court held, the law allows officials to limit prisoners’ constitutional rights when these conflict with inmates’ roles or with correctional systems’ objectives and needs.

The court also stated that because Lomax made comments in a publication he knew could be read by inmates, his articles should not be considered as outgoing mail. (Lomax v. Fiedler; Media Counsel: Gillam Kerley, Madison)