Action Alert: Emergency Response Network Alert: Help Stop Censorship in California Prisons by the CDCR


The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) – @CACorrections on Twitter – has proposed extensive new censorship regulations for both incoming and outgoing prison mail.

Action Alert: Emergency Response Network Alert: Help Stop Censorship by the CDCR

Credits: San Francisco Bay View (by Michael D. Russell)

According to the CDCR’s notice:

You are receiving this Notice because you provided comments or expressed an interest in receiving notice of changes to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation amendments to the California Code of Regulations (CCR) concerning Obscene Material and Contraband.

Amendments to the proposed text originally noticed to the public are indicated by bold double underline for newly added text and bold double strikethrough for text deleted from the original proposed text. The single underline and strikethrough formatting from the original proposed text noticed to the public has been retained. These proposed changes are being made available for public comment.

The notice goes on to detail the CDCR’s proposed sweeping changes that regarding its political censorship rules for prison mail.

According to the San Francisco Bay View, the CDCR announced changes to its proporsed “obscene materials,” or censorship rules, earlier this year. According to the story:

If the proposed regulations are approved, CDCR will be able to permanently ban any publications it considers contraband, including political publications and correspondence that should be protected by First Amendment constitutional rights. (Banning the Bay View, which CDCR blames for instigating the hunger strikes, seems to be a major objective. – ed.)

The proposed regulations are designed to (1) censor writings that educate the public about what is actually occurring inside the prisons, (2) stifle the intellectual, personal and political education and development of those incarcerated, (3) stifle efforts by prisoners to nonviolently organize, and (4) expand the CDCR’s ability to arbitrarily cut off its wards from direly needed contact and support coming from outside, thus further isolating them.

The following comes from Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity:

We called for your help in June, and we’re calling for it again. Last month, California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitations (CDCR) issued revisions to its proposed “obscene materials,” i.e. censorship regulations published earlier this year.This was in response to hundreds of public comments submitted to CDCR by CURB members and members of the public. CDCR promised to go back to the drawing board, saying the public had misunderstood its intent.This shows our collective people power! Yet, the revisions recently made by the Department are superficial and fail to address the serious concerns so many of us raised in our public comments.
If the proposed regulations are approved, CDCR will be able to permanently ban any publications it considers contraband, including political publications and correspondence that should be protected by First Amendment constitutional rights.

The proposed regulations are designed to:

  1. Censor writings that educate the public about what is actually occurring inside the prisons,
  2. Stifle the intellectual, personal and political education and development of those incarcerated,
  3. Stifle efforts by prisoners to nonviolently organize, and
  4. Expand the CDCR’s ability to arbitrarily cut off its wards from direly needed contact and support coming from outside, thus further isolating them.

Please weigh in and speak out against these regulations. The public comment period is open until 5pm on November 10. Resources to help craft a letter are provided at the action page.

Spread the word on Facebook and ask your friends, family, neighbors, pastor, school class, place of worship, and organizations to write also. Then take action on Monday by joining fellow CURB organizations Flying Over Walls and The Transgender, Gender Variant & Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP) and PHSS make mass phone calls to CDC voicing our criticisms!

Thank you for everything you do and for your initial round of public comments in June.

The following is an alert from the Emergency Response Network:

Public comment needed by November 10 regarding revised proposed censorship regulations (“Obscene Materials”). Please see CDCr memorandum “NOTICE OF CHANGE TO TEXT AS ORIGINALLY PROPOSED.”

The proposed censorship regulations that Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity collectively and vehemently opposed a few months ago have been revised (as of October 20). The deadline for public comments is November 10—short notice.

Please submit your comments regarding the revisions ASAP!

A SAMPLE LETTER IS INCLUDED BELOW.

The CDCr specifies: Please submit comments to:

Timothy M. Lockwood
Chief, Regulation and Policy Management Branch
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
P.O. Box 942883, Sacramento, CA, 94283-0001;

Fax: (916) 324-6075
Email: rpmb@cdcr.ca.gov; cc staff@oal.ca.gov)

Please take action before the close of the public comment period. Comments must be received or postmarked no later than 5:00p.m. on November 10, 2014.

The CDCr’s revisions can be viewed HERE.

The revisions made since these proposed regulations first came out on March 25, 2014, appear to be non-substantive. Our comments supposedly will only be “heard” to the extent that they address the revisions, rather than the originally proposed text.

To the extent that the revisions incorporate language from the newly approved STG regulations that went into effect on October 17, 2014, they need to be robustly resisted. The revisions specify, at 3006(c) and 3006(c)(19), that “[w]ritten materials or photographs that indicate an association with validated STG members or associates, as described in subsections 3378.2(b)(5)-(6)” are deemed contraband. Well, 3378.2(b)(5)-(6), as adopted and enacted on October 17, 2014 (along with all of the new STG regulations), describes—in vague terms open to subjective interpretation by prison staff—materials that may innocently be present in a person’s cell, such as:

“[a]ny material or documents evidencing STG activity such as the membership or enemy lists, roll call lists, constitutions, organizational structures, codes, training material, etc., of specific STGs or addresses, names, identities of validated STG affiliates. …”

“[i]ndividual or group photographs with STG connotations such as those which include insignia, certified symbols, or other validated STG affiliates. …”

In other words, under the revised regulations, any of the following may be considered contraband: an address for, or photo of, a loved one whom happens to be deemed an STG affiliate; a photo or item that includes cultural iconography deemed “certified” by the CDCr (e.g., a jaguar, a pyramid, an image of MLK); a copy of the San Francisco Bayview, as discussed below.

Moreover, the CDCr’s October 20 revisions of 3134(d)-(e) do NOT reflect the community’s concerns regarding the originally proposed text—as recently expressed via hundreds of public comments—regarding the inclusion of publications (e.g., newspapers and the publications of rights organizations) in the list of items that may be considered “STG materials.” Nor do the revisions reflect the community’s concerns over the prospective permanent banning of publications. The text of 3134(d)–(e), as originally proposed, is more or less unchanged, except to the extent that the term “STG recruitment materials” has been swapped out for the phrase “STG written materials or photographs, as described in 3378.2(b)(5)-(6).”

Some publications, like the Bayview, may and often do contain the self-disclosed names of, and/or addresses for, persons who are validated. Thus, they are subject to censorship under 3378.2(b)(5)-(6).

In solidarity,

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) and the Emergency Response Network (ERN)

To join the ERN directly and not have to rely on Facebook visit PHSS

*****************

SAMPLE LETTER: COPY AND PASTE INTO DOCUMENT/EMAIL AND FORMATTING SHOULD FIX ITSELF

[DATE]

Dear Mr. Lockwood et al.,

I recently reviewed the Revisions to Text as Originally Proposed (Obscene Materials) issued October 20. To my dismay, the Department has failed to meaningfully take into consideration concerns previously expressed by hundreds of community members regarding the originally proposed text. This, despite
the Department’s promise that it would go back to the drawing board, and its claim that the public had misunderstood its intent.

If the public misunderstood the Department’s intent, the minimally revised language around so-called obscene materials does not clarify what the Department’s intent is. E.g., the text of 3134(d)–(e), as originally proposed, is not changed except to the extent that the term “STG recruitment materials” has been swapped out for the phrase “STG written materials or photographs, as described in 3378.2(b)(5)-(6).”

Moreover, “STG written materials or photographs, as described in 3378.2(b)(5)-(6)” comprises a category of materials that’s highly subjective to individual interpretation and whim on the part of staff. It apparently includes a host of innocent items that may be found in a person’s cell, including but not limited to:

• An address for, or photo of, a loved one or friend who happens to be deemed
an STG affiliate

• An item that includes cultural iconography (e.g., a jaguar, a pyramid, an
image of Martin Luther King)

• A copy of the San Francisco Bayview newspaper

The Department needs to go back to the drawing board again to ensure that

(1) no person in custody will be penalized for possessing materials that in and of themselves have nothing to do with prohibited conduct or any rules violation;

(2) no publication will be banned—permanently or temporarily— merely because a person in custody has chosen to publish his name and/or location in an
editorial or news article, for example, or is seeking a penpal.

Sincerely,

[NAME]

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