The Militant, a “socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people” since 1928, has subscribers in state and federal prisons across the United States. In May, the Florida Department of Corrections upheld a ban on Issue 15 of the Miltant newsweekly. The issue contains an article about Albert Woodfox, a former inmate who wrote a book about his imprisonment in solitary confinement for over 40 years. According to Florida State Prison officials, the article “depicts, describes or encourages activities which may lead to the use of physical violence or group disruption.”
Prison officials also recently impounded two additional issues of the newsweekly for reporting on the censorship of the Woodfox article.
Nearly two dozen issues of the paper have been impounded by Florida prisons over the last two years without explanation. This is four times as many attempts to block The Militant as occurred in all the other prisons in the country over the last 10 years. NCAC is concerned by the escalating attempts to deny the First Amendment rights of both the publishers and incarcerated subscribers of the publication. On behalf of the coalition, NCAC has written to the Florida Department of Corrections to urge them to halt their frequent and unjustified attempts to disrupt distribution of The Militant.
Federal courts have repeatedly affirmed that prisoners have a First Amendment right to read, and publishers and others have a right to send them reading materials. While those rights can be restricted in the interest of security, blocking the free flow of ideas serves no penological purpose. Proponents of stricter controls on the books available to incarcerated readers argue that some information is inherently dangerous, but the First Amendment is designed to prohibit the suppression of information.
Access to a wide range of books offers prisoners a chance to learn, explore their interests and reconnect to the humanity so often stripped of them by the prison system. It offers a chance to discuss stories and reflect on their own lives. It offers a chance to grow and to explore ideas. It offers a chance to prepare for life after prison, beyond prison.
In a nation that prides itself on its freedoms, denying prisoners the right to read is hypocritical. Reading and accessing information is among our most basic freedoms, and everyone, including prisoners, should be able to exercise that right.
Read the full letter to the Florida Department of Corrections below.