Some people are arguing against what they perceive to be unnecessary censorship by the authorities when writing prison rules. The department of corrections in Chicago has very strict rules for what can be brought into its prisons. The reasons for this range from security to discipline. In any case, some prison authorities believe that being sent to prison should always be a form of punishment rather than allowing the convict to have any form of pleasure, however small it may be.
There are those who come from a human rights perspective who argue that prisoners do not lose their fundamental rights just because they are incarcerated. They argue that unless there is clear evidence of an illegal activity or a security risk, the prisoners should be able to access media materials. Of course that is a complicated system when dealing with offenders such as those facing weapons charges and sex offenders who may use the access to the media in order to continue committing crimes.
Lawsuits Against the Prison Service in Chicago
Recently a case was brought by the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) against the corrections service team in Chicago (or more formally, the Illinois Department of Corrections). According to the lawsuit, HRDC was accusing IDC of violating the human rights of prisoners by preventing them from accessing media publications that were not harmful and yet available to all other members of the public. HRDC argued that there were no legitimate or moral grounds for banning the publications in prison.
The lawsuit accused IDC of acting in an irrational and arbitrary manner. Some of the examples that they brought to the court include publications being sent and not being delivered to the prisoners who had ordered them. According to them, this amounted to no more than arbitrary censorship.
The prison authorities tend to focus on the issue of security as a smokescreen for doing virtually anything and everything that they like without getting the kind of public scrutiny and oversight that is supposed to happen. This is regardless of the fact that there are some prisoners such as those accused of white collar crimes who pose a lower risk than others with a history of attempted escapes.
Roles and Responsibilities of the Prison Authorities
The penal code in Chicago as well as the rules relating to the correctional service sets out some broad responsibilities that might not be fully covered by the censorship regime. These include:
- Keeping prisoners in safe and appropriate custody
- Ensuring that all court orders are followed in a timely manner
- Ensuring the good order and safety of the prison team
- Rehabilitating offenders so that they can be safely reintegrated into society when released
Some of these rights and responsibilities are written so broadly in the statutes and regulations that they become vulnerable to being misinterpreted and being abused for purposes that were not originally intended. Moreover, the prison governors and officers have so much power that they feel inclined to ignore some of the accountability measures that they are supposed to ideally pay attention to even as they carry out the mandates that are given to them by the government officals in Chicago.
The Types of Publications Affected
There is a broad range of media materials that are banned in various prison establishments. These may range from pornography to serious commentaries about the lives of prisoners. For example, the Prison Legal News publication has been banned. It is a 72-page newsletter that is typically released every month. All that it does is to cover the court rulings and news within the Chicago system. The lawsuit is concerned with this publication specifically.
Currently there are about 200 people in Chicago prisons who are subscribers to PLN. This is a publication that has been in existence for nearly three decades. In such circumstances, it becomes difficult to defend the decision to censor the publication. Perhaps the issue might be that the authorities are afraid of a well-educated prison population that might demand more rights than they are prepared to offer.
Advice for Prisoners
If you have been denied access to your rights as a prisoner, contact David Freidberg Attorney at Law on telephone number 312-560-7100. You will be given advice on how to protect your rights without antagonizing the prison officers or putting yourself in danger.
(image courtesy of Javier Villaraco)