Censorship in Prison: Prisoners’ Rights Magazine Sues Arizona Department of Corrections

FLORENCE, Arizona – The Arizona Department of Corrections faced a different type of lawsuit this year when Prison Legal News sued the Department over censorship.

Produced by the nonprofit Human Rights Defense Center, Prison Legal News has been in publication for 25 years and has served as a voice for prisoners, even earning the First Amendment Award in 2013 by the Society of Professional Journalists. However, according to PLN, the Arizona Department of Corrections silenced their voice and infringed on prisoners’ rights in 2014 when they refused to distribute the March, April, July and October issues to 97 Arizona inmates with active subscriptions.

The Department confirmed that the issues were withheld for safety and security reasons due to information related to “riots/work stoppages/resistance,” “unacceptable sexual or hostile behaviors” and “sexually explicit material.”

Because no specific stories were cited, Prison Legal News has assumed that the articles in question were about court cases about rapes and sexual assault in prison, particularly those involving prison staff, one of which was an Arizona case.

Prisoners eventually received the issues with many of the stories already redacted. However, that wasn’t enough for PLN to stop the suit.

“Defendants’ policies, practices and customs censor PLN’s expressive activities and have a chilling effect on PLN’s future speech and expression directed toward inmates confined there,” the complaint contends.

Corrections spokesman, Andrew Wilder, maintains the Department’s position in that they acted only to ensure “the safe, secure and orderly operation” of the prisons, which hold around 40,000 inmates at any given time.