Free Speech in Prison
The ACLU regularly receives reports of prisons and jails restricting the rights of prisoners to communicate with their family members and the public. Prohibiting prisoners from communicating with the outside world can violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment entitles prisoners to receive and send mail, subject only to the institution’s need to protect security. Many restrictive policies serve neither this nor any other legitimate purpose.
These policies harm not only prisoners, but also their families, friends, and the public. The Supreme Court has made it clear that the First Amendment protects not only the rights of prisoners to send and receive mail, but also the rights of free people to communicate with prisoners. Communication between prisoners and the outside world permits prisoners to preserve ties with their families and friends, while also allowing the public a means of oversight over conditions inside these closed facilities.
For these reasons, the ACLU’s National Prison Project vigorously fights to defend the free speech rights of prisoners and those who seek to communicate with them. The ACLU recently sued a South Carolina jail to end an unconstitutional policy barring most books, magazines, and newspapers from being sent to prisoners.